The landing thrusters aboard the Phoenix Mars Lander apparently did their job and them some. First, they successfully fired and gently deposited the multimillion dollar probe on the surface of the Red Planet. And then, by doing just that, they blew away three to six inches of Martian soil to reveal the shiny, slick face of what could be a large ice patch. Brendan Fraser's frozen caveman body was noticeably absent from this block of ice, but NASA scientists were elated anyway. The discovery reaffirms that the landing was indeed a bull's eye, akin to the Opportunity rover "hole in one" crater touchdown more than four years ago.
"It's the consensus of all of us that we have found ice," said Peter Smith of the University of Arizona, Tucson, which is leading the Phoenix project with help from NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab. "It's shiny and smooth - it's absolutely astounding!" he said. Exclamation points aside, Smith did concede, as scientists are wont to do, that the gleaming slab could be "something else," but the leading interpretation is that future tests will confirm it is ice.
The patch, which was discovered by Phoenix's camera during a routine inspection of its legs, joins several existing targets of digging opportunity. One is called Humpty Dumpty, and the second is the King of Hearts. The ice patch? Thy name is "Holy Cow!" said Smith. All three sites will presumably be where the lander's robotic scoop arm will dig to begin a set of experiments that could prove or disprove the presence of organic, life building compounds on Mars. [SFGate]