Ice ice baby

Satellite images revealing vast quantities of ice on Mars rekindle hopes about life existing on the planet
Ice ice baby

the us Mars Odyssey spacecraft has discovered massive ice fields on the planet. Scientists already know that water exists on Mars, but these latest images showing that ice may be abundant on the planet bolster theories that life exists or once existed on Mars. "The signal we have been getting are loud and clear," said William Boynton, principal investigator for the gamma ray spectrometre instruments on the craft. "The results are exceeding our expectations," said Roger Gibbs, the Odyssey deputy project manager for nasa 's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The ice was tracked by detecting hydrogen, which is the main element in water. Large amounts of hydrogen were detected within the top 0.9 metre surface of the planet ( www.nandotimes. com , March 1, 2002). The images also indicate that water ice is mixed with dust and rocks under the surface for a broad region of the planet -- stretching from the frozen southern polar cap north to about 60 degrees south latitude.

However, Jim Garvin, lead scientist of the Mars Exploration Programme at nasa headquarters in Washington dc, says that the images and results are still preliminary and that another month or so of analysis will be needed to confirm their observations. The Odyssey spacecraft reached Mars' orbit on October 23, 2001, and began activating its scientific instruments for mapping the planet on February 19, 2002. Among its other instruments is a thermal emission imaging system that reads the range of temperatures on the planet's surface. The infrared technology on the craft doesn't depend on visual light for operating and, therefore, it has been able to capture the first images of Mars during night time. During the Martian day, the sun heats the surface of the planet. Surface minerals then radiate this heat back to space in signature ways that can be identified and mapped by the instrument. "I was struck by the amazing clarity and resolution of these images," said Phillip Christensen, principal investigator for Odyssey's camera systems.

The spacecraft is intended to map the chemical and elemental makeup of the Martian surface and hunt for water and hot springs that could indicate geothermal activity. Another instrument, designed to measure the planet's radioactive environment and the risks it may hold for any future astronauts, has malfunctioned.

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