“We have water.”
“We have water,” Lead Scientist Wiliiam Boynton of the University of Arizona announced in 2008. Boynton, who oversaw the Phoenix Mars Lander’s Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer went on to state that, “We’ve seen evidence for this water ice before in observations by the Mars Odyssey orbiter and in disappearing chunks observed by Phoenix last month, but this is the first time Martian water has been touched and tasted.”
May 31, 2008, the Phoenix Mars Lander began its surface mission by excavating Martian soil. It’s Robotic Arm dug through Mars’s subsurface, sampling and testing its soil for its chemical compositions and more. The samples taken by Phoenix came from a two inches deep excavation. Initially, the samples collected by Phoenix were foiled due to the soil
being stuck inside the Robotic Arm’s scoop. The water within the soil samples eventually vaporized which allowed the samples to soften for testing. After spending Martian days (sols) digging through the surface, Phoenix’s Robotic Arm Camera captured patches of a smooth bright surface.
“It is with great pride and a lot of joy that I announce today that we have found proof that this hard bright material is really water ice and not some other substance,” Principal Investigator Peter Smith of the University of Arizona announced.
On July 31, 2008, Phoenix’s discovery of water ice on Mars was confirmed. The lander’s findings reaffirmed the observations made by the 2001 Mars Odyssey orbiter that found water ice near Martian surface.
During the news briefing, PI Smith continued to state, “Mars is giving us some surprises… We’re excited because surprises are where discoveries come from. One surprise is how the soil is behaving. The ice-rich layers stick to the scoop when poised in the sun above the deck, different from what we expected from all the Mars simulation testing we’ve done. That has presented challenges for delivering samples, but we’re finding ways to work with it and we’re gathering lots of information to help us understand this soil.”
Phoenix’s analyses and findings contributed to its overall objectives of studying the history of water on Mars, searching for evidence of habitable zones and assessing the biological potential of Mars’s ice-soil. More importantly, Phoenix’s discoveries gave scientists a better understanding of the environment of Mars, which was essential to future missions on the Red Planet.