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Scientists Confirm Water Ice on Mars

— NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander has confirmed the existence of water ice on Mars.

scientists celebrated the news after a sample of the ice was finally delivered to one of the lander’s instruments.
‘s mission also has officially been extended for one month beyond its original mission, NASA announced July 31 at a briefing at the
, where mission control is currently based.

“I’m very happy to announce that we’ve gotten an ice sample,” said the
‘s William Boynton, co-investigator for
‘s Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer (TEGA), which heats up samples and analyzes the vapors they give off to determine their composition.

“We have water,” Boynton added. “We’ve seen evidence for this water ice before in observations by the Mars Odyssey orbiter and in disappearing chunks observed by
last month, but this is the first time martian water has been touched and tasted.”

The news that ice had fallen into TEGA came the morning of July 31, surprising scientists who had run into problems delivering a sample of the icy dirt because of its unexpected stickiness.

“There were champagne corks popping in the downlink room,” Boynton said. “It’s something we’ve been waiting a long time for.”

When scientists tried to deliver samples of icy dirt scraped up from the Snow White trench to TEGA last week, the sample stuck to the scoop of
‘s robotic arm, with only a few tiny pieces of ice falling onto the oven screen. Scientists decided to deliver a second sample of dry dirt to the oven while they revised their sample delivery method.

The dry sample was scooped up, and delivery to the oven was confirmed July 30. When scientists began heating up the sample, the signal confirmed that “we got a little bit of ice mixed in with this sample,” Boynton said.

Scientists could detect the water ice in the sample because when water begins to melt, more heat is needed to raise the temperature of the sample.

Boynton said he initially dubbed the sample “Wicked Witch” after the witch in “Hansel in Gretel” who met her end when she was shoved into an oven. While donning a green costume witch hat, to the laughter of those in the briefing room, he said perhaps he should have named it for the witch in “The Wizard of Oz,” famous for her dying line, “I’m melting …”

also has completed its color panorama view of its landing site, made of images taken with its Surface Stereo Imager. The images show the martian terrain in the high arctic regions, which is relatively flat with few rocks and the hummocks and troughs that indicate subsurface ice.

“Essentially it’s an ice-dominated terrain,” said Mark Lemmon of
, lead scientist for Phoenix Surface Stereo Imager.

The completion of the panorama was one of the criteria
had to meet to achieve mission success, which
principal investigator Peter Smith said should be completely met by the end of the lander’s primary mission of 90 sols, or martian days.

Michael Meyer, chief scientist with the Mars Exploration Program at NASA headquarters in
, said the mission would be extended through sol 124, or Sept. 30. The mission extension will tack another $2 million onto the $420 million mission cost.