Subj: IUFO: Odyssey Discovers Abundant Water Ice on Mars
Date: 3/1/02 11:27:57 PM Pacific Standard Time

Odyssey Discovers Abundant Water Ice on Mars 

By Robert Roy Britt Senior Science Writer posted: 02:35 pm ET 01 March

Mars holds vast stores of water ice right near the surface and away from the
permanently frozen south polar ice cap, scientists said today in announcing
first major science findings from NASA's Mars Odyssey spacecraft. The
discovery makes it all the more possible that life may have once existed on
Mars or could still be supported. "There's a lot of ice on Mars," said William
Boynton, a University of Arizona researcher who is the principal investigator
for the Gamma Ray Spectrometer suite of instruments, used to make the
discovery. "We really have a whopping large signal." That signal is of
hydrogen, one component of water. Boynton and his colleagues are confident
the new measurements represents actual water ice at the surface and down
a few feet. They said, however, that additional observations are needed to
confirm the results. Scientists already knew there was water locked up in the
northern ice cap, along with carbon dioxide ice. But life is thought to require
liquid water. So finding water ice nearer the equator greatly boosts the
chances that it might melt seasonally or at least periodically, and could
therefore potentially support life. The findings were detailed at a press
conference at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which manages the Odyssey
mission for NASA, and they build on preliminary data reported in December.
Odyssey's science mission officially began Feb. 19, but some data and
images have been gathered since the craft first went into orbit around Mars
on Oct. 23. Boynton said the northern hemisphere might contain similar
amounts of water ice, but that won't be determined until it is summer there
and the large polar cap recedes. The cap's seasonal component is largely
carbon dioxide ice and it masks what might be underneath. Today's findings
are just a glimpse of what's to come, said Stephen Saunders, an Odyssey
project scientist from JPL. "For the first time we're seeing elementary
chemicals on the surface of Mars," Saunders said. "Our Odyssey has just
begun." Other signs of water Scientists have long suspected that water once
flowed freely on a warmer Mars. Supporting evidence has mounted in recent
years, thanks mostly to the Mars Global Surveyor, another NASA spacecraft
orbiting the planet. As Mars cooled millions or billions of years ago and
surface water froze or evaporated into space through a thinning atmosphere,
some may have remained frozen in the soil or trapped in underground
reservoirs. Heat from within may still keep some of that water in liquid form,
some scientists speculate. Or, underground water ice might be periodically
melted by this geothermal activity. Research has not shown conclusively
whether Mars is still geothermally active, however. Surveyor's most
significant discovery was evidence of seasonal deposits that could be
associated with surface springs, first reported by in June of
2000. Surveyor and Odyssey will both continue to explore Mars for more
signs of liquid water on and below the surface. About Odyssey Odyssey, a
mission costing nearly $300 million,  launched April 7, 2001. The spacecraft
is 7.2 feet (2.2 meters) long, 5.6 feet (1.7 meters) tall and 8.5 feet (2.6
meters) wide. The orbiting craft will study Mars for at least three years from
249 miles (400 kilometers) above. It will map the planet in visible and infrared
light in unprecedented detail, scientists say. Odyssey is also scheduled to
measure potentially deadly radiation with the Martian Radiation Environment
Experiment (MARIE), an instrument that so far has not been made to work.
Engineers are developing solutions and remain hopeful that MARIE will
function. The next planned mission to Mars is a pair of robotic surface rovers
that would launch in 2003. The rovers will be able to sift dirt and crack upon
rocks, then photograph the results and analyze sample for chemical signs of
water and life. The new findings and other results expected from Odyssey 
will help scientists decide where to put the rovers.

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