Thanks to a multi-national effort led by the University of Arizona and NASA, the team's intrepid geological robot on Mars, the Phoenix lander, finally sent back the message the science community has been waiting with bated breath to hear after 62 Martian days: there is, without a doubt, water ice on Mars.
Principal Phoenix Investigator Peter Smith of the University of Arizona announced today that "we landed right on top of water ice and the thrusters spread the soil away and revealed ice right underneath our lander — this was unexpected." Phoenix co-investigator and TEGA lead William Boynton, also of the University of Arizona, elaborated on the gathered water ice sample: "We've now finally touched it and tasted it. That is one thing that hasn't been done before. And I'd like to say, at least from my standpoint, it tastes very fine." The site was first discovered six years ago by the orbiting Mars Odyssey spacecraft, the data from which helped NASA choose where Phoenix would touch down.
Boynton then donned a hat, pictured above, reminiscent of a witch, and commented on the difficulty of getting the water ice sample from the Phoenix's scoop to the oven: "I decided to name this one 'Wicked Witch,' and that was named after Hansel and Gretel with the idea that that witch found her demise being pushed into an oven." He then added that the Wicked Witch of the West may have made more sense, as she famously declared, "I'm melting!" He also hoped his daughter didn't see him wearing a silly hat.
This historic moment marks the first time that we have studied first-hand a source of water other than what we've got here on Earth. While we have observed the presence of ice-like deposits on comets and on the moons of other planets, the Phoenix's samples will be the first to be analyzed, ever. In light of the lander's success, the mission will be extended all the way through September. The chief NASA scientist on the team, Michael Meyer, noted that with the extended Phoenix mission and future efforts, "We'll be moving away from necessarily finding water to actually looking for where there might be habitats for life."
Tomorrow's headline: Little green men caught using shavings from the Phoenix lander's dig site as ice cubes!
CORRECTION: My apologies to the fine folks in Tucson, Arizona!
CORRECTION 2: And the awesome people at the University of Arizona!