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Mars NASA Space Science

NASA Announces Water Found On Mars 281

Posted by timothy
from the so-val-kilmer-can-breathe-easy dept.
s.bots writes "Straight from the horse's mouth, NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander has identified water in a soil sample. Hopefully this exciting news will boost interest in the space program and further exploration of the Martian surface." Clearly, this has long been suspected, but now Martian water's been (in the words of William Boynton, lead scientist for the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer) "touched and tasted."
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NASA Announces Water Found On Mars

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  • by clang_jangle (975789) * on Thursday July 31, 2008 @04:27PM (#24423989) Journal
    Here comes the neighborhood!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 31, 2008 @04:27PM (#24423991)

    Meh. Call me if they find crude oil on Mars.

  • Hurray! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by inotocracy (762166) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @04:30PM (#24424049) Homepage
    Now what?
    • Re:Hurray! (Score:5, Funny)

      by Penguinisto (415985) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @04:58PM (#24424467) Journal

      ...now we find a way to launch approximately 40bn gallons of fine single-malt whisky to Mars.

      Oh, okay, - it really means that now we don't have to drag as much stuff with us when we finally do get sufficient testicular fortitude to get people out to Mars for exploration, perhaps settlement, etc etc.

      Now to answer your question specifically? We need to know how much H2O are we talking here, and in what concentrations and distributions.

      /P

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        ...now we find a way to launch approximately 40bn gallons of fine single-malt whisky to Mars.

        no no, we just need to send barley, oak casks and some funny shaped copper tubes.

        If your willing to wait a bit longer, we only need to send barley and acorns, I'm sure there must be some copper on Mars.

      • Re:Hurray! (Score:5, Informative)

        by quax (19371) on Friday August 01, 2008 @12:29AM (#24428807)

        Satellite surface penetrating radar measurements indicate a layer of almost pure ice with depth of up to 1.8 km in places. Lateral spherical distribution of what is most likely water ice with about 1000 km diameter has been observed in March 2007 around the south pole.

        Source (Sorry is German):

        http://www.spiegel.de/fotostrecke/fotostrecke-33791-9.html#backToArticle=569278 [spiegel.de]

    • Re:Hurray! (Score:5, Funny)

      by Eudial (590661) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @05:01PM (#24424507)

      Now what?

      Now we move to mars. Naturally, we won't actually use or drink the readily available Martian water, but buy bottled water from earth instead.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by mjwx (966435)

        Now we move to mars.

        Get your ass to Mars.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by j01123 (1147715)

        Now we move to mars. Naturally, we won't actually use or drink the readily available Martian water, but buy bottled water from earth instead.

        You've got it backwards. We bring the Mars water back here and sell it to gullible yuppies for 6 million dollars a bottle. Just tell them it's free of all of those earthly contaminants that cause cancer and wrinkles.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Dejah Thoris and a hot tub, what else?

      Projected quantities, availability and ease of procurement of said water, but first need need other resources necessary for sustained life there. Perhaps afterwards can discuss algae and people with a greenhouse. Lots to do, rest assured though somewhere along the line there will be a push for terraforming, if we don't destroy ourselves first.

  • Big deal... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Atreju (797728) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @04:30PM (#24424051)
    NASA found water on Mars over three years ago [nasa.gov].
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by yincrash (854885)
      Your modders obviously didn't click on your link.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Atreju (797728)
        That's why i just LOVE this "serious" link pointing to nasa.gov. They really should put some more stuff like that to help people get modded up on slashdot.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Locke2005 (849178)
        The modders DID click on the link, they just realized that modding it "funny" would spoil the surprise... I was going to post the same comment myself, but somebody else beat me to it. True, it is only funny the first time you see it, so it is an old joke to 90% of slashdotters.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by smolloy (1250188)

      I love that this has been moderated "+5 Interesting" :D

      Obviously lots of people moderating without clicking on the link.

  • Well we know one place where the Housing bubble hasn't collapsed. The Deed I bought on MartianRealestate.com will finally go up in value. I purchased 3000 acres on the Martian polar regions. Now where to build my lake house...
  • Are we surprised? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by g0bshiTe (596213) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @04:31PM (#24424061)
    Seriously are we really that surprised we found water on Mars? Considering most of our galaxy is made up of the same compounds here on Earth, I wouldn't doubt if we found water on nearly all our planets, in one form or another.
    • by 19Buck (517176) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @04:40PM (#24424195) Homepage

      Seriously are we really that surprised we found water on Mars? Considering most of our galaxy is made up of the same compounds here on Earth, I wouldn't doubt if we found water on nearly all our planets, in one form or another.

      from our perspective here on earth we might seem to have an overabundance of water, but on a universal scale it's a fairly rare compound. After all, water can only exist in a limited number of states under a limited number of conditions.

      • by meringuoid (568297) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @06:17PM (#24425493)
        from our perspective here on earth we might seem to have an overabundance of water, but on a universal scale it's a fairly rare compound.

        On the contrary: I'd guess that water is the most common compound in the Universe.

        The most abundant substance in the by far in the visible Universe is hydrogen. The second most abundant is helium. The third most abundant element in the Universe is oxygen, but in the presence of elemental hydrogen oxygen is unstable and reacts exothermically to produce water. Probably most of the oxygen not locked up inside stars is in water molecules.

        Liquid water is rare, I'll grant. But the Universe is absolutely riddled with water vapour and with ice.

    • by iamlucky13 (795185) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @05:43PM (#24425117)
      Overall, we're not surprised. Scientists have been pretty sure there was subsurface ice there for several years based on ground-penetrating radar on one of the orbiters. Confirming this was a major goal of Phoenix. There weren't a lot of other good explanations for all that hydrogen detected by radar, but that still wasn't considered proof. Nor even were the images of the bright, ice-like material uncovered earlier in the Phoenix mission. Also, we already knew for quite a while about water vapor on Mars, but the next question was about large quantities of surface water.

      The Phoenix team was a little surprised by exactly how it occurred, however. Because ice sublimates on Mars once exposed, they had to get the sample into the TEGA oven relatively quickly. It ended up being even stickier than previous samples (possibly due to melting of the ice by friction from the rasp) and didn't fall properly from the scoop into the oven. By the time the results were received, analyzed, and a conclusion reached, they considered the sample already spoiled, but because some likely made it into the oven, the oven was also "contaminated," which affects the accuracy of measuring relative abundance. So they managed to dump the "ruined" sample into the oven to compare it to the last "ruined" sample, but found there was water in it anyways. Unfortunately, because of the sublimation, this still doesn't give them the relative abundance. It also, as far as I know, was only inferred so far by calorimetry. In the next day or two, they should get spectroscopy results back, which will be even better verification.

      Because of all this, they're going to spend some more time practicing and polishing their delivery method so they can get a truly fresh sample into the ovens. They've got 6 empty ovens left, although there might be a problem with the doors on some or all of them.
      • by geekoid (135745)

        They also watched it sublimate. Since only water can go from solid to gas, it's a pretty good test.

  • Mars... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Poromenos1 (830658) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @04:33PM (#24424097) Homepage

    I still can't believe we sent a small robot and let it run around on *Mars*. It seems so unfathomably far away that I find it hard to even imagine...

    Next stop: Bacteria.

  • "So what?" (Score:5, Insightful)

    by damburger (981828) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @04:33PM (#24424113)

    ...is what most people will think. Whilst this is of earth-shattering (well, mars-shattering) importance to a lot a scientists it isn't going to motivate Joe Public to commit any more tax money to the exploration of space, because they don't benefit from it themselves. This isn't a condition of human nature, this is a conscious choice by a significant portion of the population to never grow out of adolescent self obsession. People are told its good to be totally egotistical, and here is a product that will help you do that.

    So no, it won't boost interest in space exploration; everyone who will raise an eyebrow to this news is already interested in space. People who didn't care before now won't care now.

    • Re:"So what?" (Score:5, Informative)

      by Phairdon (1158023) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @04:49PM (#24424307)

      It's unfortunate that Joe Public is such an idiot. Yes, he doesn't benefit directly from space exploration, but he has many indirect benefits.

      You have to be seriously ignorant to not see the benefit of the space program.

      Ever used a cordless power tool? A smoke detector? Modern water filtration? Infrared thermometer? Edible toothpaste (this one is now used for baby toothpaste and we probably all used it as babies)? Composite forceps in the delivery room? Global communications?

      Here is a kid friendly site that Joe Public might be able to comprehend
      http://techtran.msfc.nasa.gov/at_home.html [nasa.gov]

      • by Red Flayer (890720) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @05:26PM (#24424905) Journal

        It's unfortunate that Joe Public is such an idiot. Yes, he doesn't benefit directly from space exploration, but he has many indirect benefits

        ...

        Ever used [...] Composite forceps in the delivery room?

        FWIW, I think if Joe Public has used composite forceps in the delivery room, we have larger problems than NASA funding. For one, we need to fix the healthcare system so that when my wife delivers her next child, it's an obstetrician, not Joe Public, prying the little rugrat out of her dilated vagoogoo.

        (My apologies to my as-yet-unconceived (I hope) second child).

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510)

          prying the little rugrat out of her dilated vagoogoo.

          (My apologies to my as-yet-unconceived (I hope) second child).

          As long as you are calling it a 'vagoogoo' you are to young to have a first child, never mind a second.

    • I think the scientists are really being self obsessed here.

      Why the hell should anyone care if there is water on Mars or not? A few scientists get their thrills about this, but why should they think that the rest of the people should get excited and spend money on this when there are far more meaningful and useful things to be spending money on and getting excited about. NASA has been spending huge amounts of money for 50 years now and we really have nothing useful to show for space research. Sure we have sa

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by the_weasel (323320)

        For example, we don't know much about our own oceans and those are far more important to us as a source of food, minerals etc.

        [sarcasm]Absolutely. We should immediately stop space research entirely and focus ALL of our efforts on the oceans. I can't believe no one is looking into this subject already.[/sarcasm]

        I care if there is water on Mars. With the advent of nuclear and biological weapons, we now have the power to significantly fuck up our living space. Hell - one of these days there will be another asteroid strike.

        It would be nice to know if humans can be self sufficient in places other than earth. That won't happen tomorrow

    • Human condition (Score:4, Interesting)

      by PIPBoy3000 (619296) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @04:50PM (#24424351)

      This isn't a condition of human nature, this is a conscious choice by a significant portion of the population to never grow out of adolescent self obsession.

      Actually, I'd rather spend the majority of my resources on my children, which is probably a trait shaped by evolution to become part of the human condition. If you can send a mission to Mars without impacting my kids' education, future debt, or well-being, I'd completely support it.

      • by damburger (981828)
        Compare the cost of the Vision for Space Exploration, the Iraq war, and how much people with children care about those two things, and you'll realise that isn't a sensible position to take.
    • Well, still the question is, so what? What does the presence of water on Mars tell us. Not asking for what it can do, or what it will let us do, but what does it tell us? What can we learn from what, what new questions does it raise.

      Also, I want to meet this legendary Joe Public. Wanting to invest in things that probably will have more immediate or more significant payoffs seems to be incredibly human. You're turning the 'non sciency' people into a large monolithic blocks. Since they believe that there are
      • by damburger (981828)

        I know that a good segment of the public appears to be apathetic to space exploration, or even basic science. But the misconceptions the public has of NASA budget isn't because their stupid or 'anti science'. It means their ignorant and should be informed. ... Sorry, rant over. I just grinds on my nerves whenever a science article comes out, and people start talking about us, those who appreciate science, and the dirty stupid majority who is too dumb to understand the beauty/importance.

        Information isn't hard to get. These days you would be hard pressed to find someone who couldn't figure out to type 'NASA' or 'Mars' into google. So if someone is uninformed, it is purely by choice.

        To me, 'willfully ignorant' is not significantly different from 'stupid'

    • Re:"So what?" (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Turiacus (1316049) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @05:20PM (#24424819)

      I'm sick of these constant attacks on "Joe Sixpack". When was the last time you were consulted on NASA's budget ? Ordinary folks have no control over this.

      And what did you personally do to encourage congress to spend more of space exploration ? Probably nothing. (whining on slashdot doesn't count).

      I also disagree with the idea that nobody cares. I care, and I bet a lot of people here care too. I remember the record number of visitors pathfinder's website had at the time. You are certainly not alone in finding a robot driving around Mars more exciting than a bunch of guys bicycling in orbit. But I guess having a superiority complex is fun.

  • This will be remembered in the textbooks as one of the biggest discoveries in human history - and yet it will of course be presently overlooked by uninterested masses.

    Will humanity ever get past our predilections with ourselves?

    I can't fathom the significance of this event fully, and yet the public applause so well deserved is again, starkly absent.

    oh well - I think it's great at least, maybe I shouldn't care so much what the masses think or care about.

    • This will be remembered in the textbooks as one of the biggest discoveries in human history

      No it won't, because water is a fairly common molecular arrangement. Electricty, atomic power, Earth being round, these are things that qualify as the biggest discoveries. In 10 years this particular incident of the rover will be forgotten, and in 100 years, the rover itself will be a historical footnote. How much do textbooks cover the Apollo program other than #11 and #13?

      Less than 100 years ago, people believed that Mars had canals full of water. Then with better optics people realized that no, those trenches, causing an extreme belief swing the other way - that Mars must be bone dry, any water having long since evaporated. Of course that ignores the polar ice caps which spectrography can easily identify.

      We've finally come into direct contact with H20 on Mars' surface rather than simply remote identification. While a milestone, it's a pretty damn tiny one. It will not be remembered in textbooks. Look how results of the Venus expeditions of the 70s are now glossed over.

      • by kaiser423 (828989)
        uh, it's not a rover. It doesn't rove.

        it landed there and sits there.
      • by rbanffy (584143)

        "No it won't"

        The Martians of the future may disagree with you.

        Obviously, they will have to exist, before they disagree. But water makes it a lot more likely.

    • Marketing (Score:4, Insightful)

      by copponex (13876) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @04:49PM (#24424329) Homepage

      People are curious by default. But you can't make money on reveling in scientific breakthroughs. Since money is the only measure of success in our culture, R&D that doesn't directly translate into more capital is ignored and often ridiculed, though almost all real breakthroughs are performed through the state sector (through funding to universities or even directly by DARPA).

      Billions upon billions are spent convincing people to buy products they don't need with money they don't have. It's all fun and games until the currency crashes and the environment is left in ruins.

    • Science education (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      In the meantime, Chinese kids and other kids from developing countries are looking with awe and go on to study math and science.

      A generation from now, when they are the leaders of the World, our children will wonder why they're sweeping up after the assembly robots - Chinese will move their manufacturing over here because of our cheap labor. After all, they'll be busy inventing things and exploring space while we're watching the latest reality shit on TV.

      I blame the educators for making such a fascinating s

      • by jgarra23 (1109651)

        I blame the educators for making such a fascinating subject dull and harder than it has to be.

        Are you talking about Linux zealots here?

      • by 4D6963 (933028)
        They'll be the leaders of the world regarding industry, technology (maybe not innovation/R&D), businessish stuff like commerce and all that, but it takes so much more than being an economic super-power to achieve cultural supremacy. 40 years from now China may be the top dog, but everybody will still watch American movies. Their culture will have a very tough time imposing itself, and I don't think China's reign will last long enough for it to happen even remotely. Besides, you don't want to hear China'
    • Not so much (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Locke2005 (849178)
      It is momentous only because it finally proves that sustainable human life is possible on Mars. However, since Mars is sadly lacking a Magnetosphere, the fact that water and oxygen are available there isn't as useful as we would like it to be. Hmm... how hard is it to build a dome that blocks out all harmful cosmic radiation, yet still lets in the sunlight necessary for photosynthesis? Since any Terran originated life on Mars would require a pressurized dome anyway, how big a win is a Martian colony over a
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by H0p313ss (811249)

        It is momentous only because it finally proves that sustainable human life is possible on Mars.

        It proves no such thing. It only hints at the possibility.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by rbanffy (584143)

        "How hard is it to build a dome that blocks out all harmful cosmic radiation"

        You don't build a dome. You dig a cave. You use nuclear or solar power to light lamps and let plants use that light instead of sunlight. You could also use mirrors, but you would need a lot of them because Mars is farther from the Sun than we are and Earth plants evolved for earthly amounts of light.

        Alternatively, if you really want a dome, you could build two and fill them with water. Then, if you are really clever, you can build

    • Its not a great event. It only proved what everyone already knew, both by theory and common sense.

      We are all made from the same building blocks, so on a rather similar planet, not so far away from us, finding water there is not really that amazing of a event. ( cool yes, amazing, no )

      To me, when we find primitive life there it will be the same sort of "well, no kidding there is some sort of life there"..

  • Bring a Brita!! :)

  • Quantum Fingerprints (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Doc Ruby (173196) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @04:44PM (#24424265) Homepage Journal

    I wonder if we'll someday be able to look at the quantum state of the molecules, atoms and subatomic particles making up even pure water, to learn about its history. The way that we look at the chemical composition now, with more familiar instruments.

  • It isn't water, it is water ICE. This is no big surprise, it has long been suspected that there is plenty of water ice on the Martian poles.

    What would be a surprise would be liquid water, even if it only exists deep below the surface (given the current atmospheric pressure).

    Life of any kind would be a real find, even if it is frozen bacteria, even if it is 8 million years old [newscientist.com].

  • They previously found something shiny, white, and hard. Small scrapings disappear after a few days by sublimination (solid evaportation). When a chunk of icy soil was put into an oven, then slowy heated, the thermometer got stuck at 0 degrees Celius for a while. This a science experiment done in junior high: heat a block of ice with a thermometer in it. The temperature rises until 0 degrees and stalls there until the ice is completely melted before rising again. Solid water has this phase change at thi
  • by speedtux (1307149) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @04:47PM (#24424295)

    The Viking landers observed frost in the 70's. Mars obiters found huge amounts of water underground. Ice is clearly exposed in many photographs. Knowledge of ice and water on Mars goes way, way beyond "suspected". If detecting ice is all this mission yields, it's a big waste of money. This mission was intended to give detailed information about what's in the ice and soil, but that doesn't seem to be happening.

    The question for the last decade or two has been whether there is liquid water on Mars. Despite the low air pressure, even pure liquid water can exist in some places and times: aquifers, briny puddles and lakes, lakes enclosed in ice, etc.

  • Significance (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Phroggy (441)

    Is there any particular scientific significance to the discovery of water on Mars that isn't related to the possibility of discovering extraterrestrial life? I firmly believe that extraterrestrial life does not exist (and never has), so everybody else's excitement about it gets a little old after awhile. Is there another reason I should be excited about this?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by rhennigan (833589)

      I firmly believe that extraterrestrial life does not exist (and never has)

      Around here we tend to rely on evidence and not beliefs.

      • Around here we tend to rely on evidence and not beliefs.

        The only evidence we have right now is that intelligent life has never existed in this galaxy prior to us. See: The Fermi Paradox.

        It's not ironclad proof, obviously, but it's far more evidence than we have for the existence of other intelligent life, which is absolutely none.

    • The main significance of this discovery is that we now have something to add to Martian single-malt whiskey (known locally as "Martch").
    • by geekoid (135745)

      "I firmly believe that extraterrestrial life does not exist (and never has)"

      well, that's the smallest minded thing I have ever read on /.

      Wow, such hubris.

      I mean, you are ignoring the fact that there is water on another planet, nutrients in the soil of another planet, but refuse to consider that somewhere else there might be life of some kind?
      Everything needed for there to be something out there have been found on other bodies.

      But you refuse to consider that in the billions of years this universe has existed

  • Just to prove common sense?

    Sure space is cool.. and so are the expeditions.. But we could have done something even more cool on the mission if we went out there looking for what everyone knew was there.

    Hell, by now we could have people running around on Mars instead of wasting it on finding water.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by geekoid (135745)

      Nobody 'knew' is was there. Now we do.

      Yes, we could ahve people on mars by now, but there isn't a real budget for it, so we send the specific mission robots.

      When we are ready to build something their, we will send people.

  • by katakomb (1328459) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @05:18PM (#24424789)

    Just to reiterate a point that a few others have made: the presence of water ice at the surface of Mars has been understood since at least the 1970's for high latitudes. This goes for parts of the polar caps (also made up of CO2 ice), and the seasonal frosts that are known to coat the very study area visited by the Phoenix lander.

    Here's a snippet from an abstract of an article from 1982 (Journal of Geophysical Research, 87:367-370): "A new reflectance spectrum of the Martian north polar cap is analyzed, and it shows water ice absorption features. This evidence confirms the result of the Viking IRTM and MAWD experiments, which indicate that the north residual polar cap of Mars is composed of water ice during the season observed." The Viking 2 lander directly saw seasonal frost in the late 70's, as the Phoenix lander will in the coming months: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/jplhistory/captions/vikinglander-t.php [nasa.gov]

    The Phoenix results are new in that ice has been directly confirmed for shallow regolith ("soil") materials at the Phoenix site (as opposed to spectroscopically identified from orbit or from the Earth). This is a nice and important result, but is not a huge surprise (the site is known to be seasonally coated with water-ice frosts, and its sediments are distributed in a polygonal pattern that is analogous to what we see at high latitudes on Earth where freeze-thaw action dominates).

    Phoenix is a great mission, but let's also give due credit to earlier workers.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by geekoid (135745)

      No, there where ice absorption features, and indications.

      Phoenix also found out that there are nutrients in the soil.
      Yes, the soil could grow plants.

      This is huge, plant supporting material found on another planet.

  • Department (Score:3, Funny)

    by HTH NE1 (675604) on Thursday July 31, 2008 @05:24PM (#24424887)

    from the so-val-kilmer-can-breathe-easy dept.

    Val Kilmer? Don't you mean Dan Quayle?

    "Mars is essentially in the same orbit ... Mars is somewhat the same distance from the Sun, which is very important. We have seen pictures where there are canals, we believe, and water. If there is water, that means there is oxygen. If oxygen, that means we can breathe."
    -- Vice President Dan Quayle, 1989-08-11 (reported in Esquire, 1992-08)

  • but the determined the soil has the nutrients need to support plants.

    Of course the atmosphere is sucky.

  • now we have something to water the asparagus [hubpages.com] with.

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