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Titan's liquid lakes

...Cassini scientists have presented unrivalled evidence for the presence of ethane lakes on Saturn’s moon Titan, the first definitive example of liquid surface reservoirs on a planetary body other than the Earth...

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Supernova explodes in controversy

...the interpretation of supernova explosion

SN 2008D is causing controversy among different research groups who argue its origin and evolution as either a ‘normal’ supernova, or something more reminiscent of a gamma-ray burst...

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Eclipse gallery 2008

...share your eclipse experiences with the world...

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Video archive

STS-120 day 2 highlights

Flight Day 2 of Discovery's mission focused on heat shield inspections. This movie shows the day's highlights.


STS-120 day 1 highlights

The highlights from shuttle Discovery's launch day are packaged into this movie.


STS-118: Highlights

The STS-118 crew, including Barbara Morgan, narrates its mission highlights film and answers questions in this post-flight presentation.

 Full presentation
 Mission film

STS-120: Rollout to pad

Space shuttle Discovery rolls out of the Vehicle Assembly Building and travels to launch pad 39A for its STS-120 mission.


Dawn leaves Earth

NASA's Dawn space probe launches aboard a Delta 2-Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral to explore two worlds in the asteroid belt.

 Full coverage

Dawn: Launch preview

These briefings preview the launch and science objectives of NASA's Dawn asteroid orbiter.

 Launch | Science

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Phoenix tastes water on Mars

Posted: August 1, 2008

After weeks of struggling to deliver a sample of icy soil to Phoenix’s onboard laboratory, the lander’s ovens have finally received their bounty and provided the first direct evidence for water on Mars.

"We have water," says William Boynton, lead scientist for the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyser (TEGA), the instrument that sniffed out the water vapour as the sample was heated to progressively higher temperatures. "We've seen evidence for this water ice before in observations by the Mars Odyssey orbiter and in disappearing chunks [of ice] observed by Phoenix last month, but this is the first time Martian water has been touched and tasted."

A full-circle, colour panorama of Phoenix's surroundings also has been completed by the spacecraft, showing an ice-dominated terrain as far as the eye can see. The image will help mission scientists plan future measurements within reach of the robotic arm and then interpret the results with how they fit into the global picture. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University Arizona/Texas A&M University.

The soil sample came from a section of the ‘Dodo-Goldilocks’ trench extending to about 5 centimetres deep, where a hard layer of frozen soil was discovered earlier in the mission. Two attempts to deliver samples of the icy soil were foiled when they became stuck inside the scoop, and no amount of shaking or vibrating helped release the stubborn soil. But in the latest attempt, the soil had been exposed to the Martian air for around two days, allowing some of the water locked up in the soil to vapourise away, making it less ‘sticky’ and easier to work with.

"Mars is giving us some surprises," says Phoenix principal investigator Peter Smith of the University of Arizona. "We're excited because surprises are where discoveries come from. One surprise is how the soil is behaving. The ice-rich layers stick to the scoop when poised in the Sun above the deck, different from what we expected from all the Mars simulation testing we've done. That has presented challenges for delivering samples, but we're finding ways to work with it and we're gathering lots of information to help us understand this soil."

With these tantalizing results and the lander given a clean bill of health, NASA also announced additional funding for the mission to continue through to the end of September, adding an extra five weeks to an originally planned 90 day mission.

"Phoenix is healthy and the projections for solar power look good, so we want to take full advantage of having this resource in one of the most interesting locations on Mars," says Michael Meyer, chief scientist for the Mars Exploration.

During that time, the science team will try to determine whether the water ice ever thaws enough to be available for life as liquid water, and if carbon-containing chemicals and other raw materials required for life as we know it are present.

Related Stories

Jul   29 Sticky situation for Phoenix read more

Jul   22 Phoenix in 24-hour monitoring assignment read more

Jul   17 Phoenix rasps frozen layer... read more

Jul   11 First success with Phoenix soil probe... read more

Jul   10 Phoenix struggling with icy payload read more

Jul   03 Next Phoenix bake could be last read more

Jun  30 Phoenix soil could support life read more

Jun  23 Frozen water confirmed on Mars read more

Jun  19 Bright chunks must have been ice read more

Jun  17 First results from Phoenix bakery read more

Jun  12 An oven full of sand read more

Jun  10 Clumpy Martian soil challenges Phoenix read more

Jun  06 Closest view ever of Mars sand read more

Jun  03 Phoenix scoops up Martian soil read more

Jun  02 Phoenix sees possible ice read more

May 30 Phoenix flexes robotic arm read more

May 28 HiRISE captures Phoenix descent read more

May 26 Spectacular new colour view of Mars read more

May 23 Phoenix prepares for Mars landing read more