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Officially ice

Oven bakes out water; mission successes lead to longer lander life

The Phoenix Mars Lander has finally “tasted” and “touched” water ice, mission scientists reported. This result, along with other mission successes, has sparked NASA officials to extend the life of the lander, which touched down on the Red Planet May 25. The scientists will have an extra 34 days to learn about the soil and atmosphere of Mars’ polar region.

Detecting the water ice in this latest sample was a surprise, said Phoenix scientist William Boynton of the University of Arizona in Tucson during a July 31 mission press briefing. The Phoenix team has been trying to analyze a sample from a hard layer beneath the topsoil, but delivering such a sample to the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer, or TEGA, instrument has proven difficult for the past month.

The TEGA ovens are designed to bake samples, identifying components primarily by their melting points as a way to directly detect the presence of certain compounds, such as water ice.

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