Phoenix Finds Ice Near Martian North Pole; Discovery Deemed “Absolutely Astounding”

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A view under the Mars Phoenix Rover showing what scientists believe is a patch of ice.
A photo shows the underside of the Phoenix lander and what appears to be exposed surface ice.

NASA PRESS RELEASE

A view of the ground underneath NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander adds to evidence that descent thrusters dispersed overlying soil and exposed a harder substrate that may be ice.

The image received Friday night from the spacecraft’s Robotic Arm Camera shows patches of smooth and level surfaces beneath the thrusters.

“This suggests we have an ice table under a thin layer of loose soil,” said the lead scientist for the Robotic Arm Camera, Horst Uwe Keller of Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany.

“We were expecting to find ice within two to six inches of the surface,” said Peter Smith of the University of Arizona, Tucson, principal investigator for Phoenix. “The thrusters have excavated two to six inches and, sure enough, we see something that looks like ice. It’s not impossible that it’s something else, but our leading interpretation is ice.”

[“It’s the consensus of all of us that we have found ice,” Smith said in a conference call with reporters. “It’s shiny and smooth – it’s absolutely astounding!”]

The Phoenix mission is led by Smith at the University of Arizona with project management by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., and development partnership at Lockheed Martin, Denver. International contributions come from the Canadian Space Agency; the University of Neuchatel, Switzerland; the universities of Copenhagen and Aarhus, Denmark; Max Planck Institute, Germany; and the Finnish Meteorological Institute.