Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A Step Closer to Bottled Martian Water?


Perhaps we're a long way off from gulping down bottled Martian water after a bike ride, but after NASA's Mars Phoenix lander has done its job, we'll know a lot more about water on Mars than we did before.

Phoenix landed on Mars Sunday evening (artist's rendition pictured on the left) around 8pm, to much applause here on earth. As Phoenix sped into the Martian atmosphere, its gravitational pull caused the spacecraft's speed to double to around 13,000 miles per hour.

The lander is the first to be in located in the unexplored northern polar region of Mars, where it will spend a stationary 90 days, digging through Martian soil with its robotic arm. Since ice is layered beneath the top soil, scientists will be able to analyze Martian ice and soil for the first time, thanks to the Phoenix's handy chemistry labs onboard.

While Mars is arguably one of the most popular, attention receiving planets, I'm not sure I'd want to spend several months there collecting subsurface ice. It's a cold desert-like planet ( pictured on the right, taken from Phoenix lander). The Phoenix lander can't play in the dirt infinitely either- once winter arrives on Mars, the sun drops below its horizon, making it impossible to recharge the spacecraft's batteries and terminates the mission.

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