Water Ice On Mars

By | June 23, 2008

“Scientists have figured out the mysterious white substance unearthed by NASA’s Phoenix lander on Mars. It’s frozen water. The breakthrough came last week when Phoenix’s stereo camera caught the substance in the act of disappearing. B

Bathed in martian sunlight for four days, the white substance sublimated–i.e., it transformed from solid to gas without passing through the liquid state. This is how water behaves on Mars. Atmospheric pressure on the Red Planet is so low (1% that of Earth), it rarely allows H2O to exist in liquid form on the planet’s surface; solid and gas are the only options. Some readers have asked, how do we know the white substance is not frozen CO2 (dry ice) instead of frozen water? Answer: Phoenix’s landing site is too warm for dry ice. The average daily temperature is about -70 F while dry ice requires temperatures lower than about -109 F.

Finding water was one of the key goals of the Phoenix mission. Although H2O has trouble flowing as a liquid on the surface of Mars, it may be able to liquify, from time to time, just below the surface, providing a habitat for martian microbes. Exciting stuff! Stay tuned as the digging continues.


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