Phoenix instruments confirm water on Mars, mission extended

Politics Materials 1 August 2008 02:10 (UTC +04:00)

The Phoenix Mars mission has found water in a soil sample after spending the last two months examining the red planet for evidence that it could support life, NASA scientists said Thursday. ( dpa )

The spacecraft's robotic arm has dug several trenches in the Martian soil near the planet's north pole and been heating soil samples in a series of small "ovens."

It had earlier spotted chunks outside the rover that scientists had identified as ice, but data sent back by the most recent soil sample for the first time showed water inside Mars' dirt, researchers said.

"We've seen evidence for this water ice before in observations by the Mars Odyssey orbiter and in disappearing chunks observed by Phoenix last month, but this is the first time Martian water has been touched and tasted," University of Arizona scientist William Boynton said.

Phoenix had also earlier identified minerals necessary for life in soil samples.

NASA also said Phoenix's mission will be extended through September.

Phoenix landed on Mars May 25 and its mission was to last three months. Instead the US space agency will spend another 2 million dollars for a few extra weeks of research, chief scientist Michael Meyer said in a press conference from Tucson, Arizona.

During the extension of the mission, scientists said, Phoenix will dig and examine two more trenches. The added time will also allow them to collect more data about the seasons on Mars and take more photographs of the planet.

Meyer described the mission as a step toward "understanding whether there are places on Mars that have been or even might still be habitable."