Friday, May 23, 2008

Seven Minutes of Terror ...

... no, not the seven, uncomfortable minutes you spend sitting with your parents-in-law when your spouse is getting something out of storage from their house. Rather, I'm talking about the landing of the Phoenix project on Mars this Sunday. A little over half (55%) of Mars missions have ended in disaster, so obviously the people at NASA are a bit on edge.

Well, here is to wishing them the best of luck and a successful mission (which includes the landing).

The Phoenix landing site is targeted for the far Northern plains of the Mars, near the northern polar ice cap. Data from the Mars Odyssey spacecraft indicate large quantities of ice in the area, likely in the form of permafrost, either on the surface or just barely underground.

Phoenix is equipped with a robotic arm that can dig down and scoop up some of that ice and dirt, to look for organic chemical evidence that life once existed there, or even still exists now.

"We are not going to be able to answer the final question of 'is there life on Mars,' " said Smith. "We will take the next important step. We'll find out if there's organic material associated with this ice in the polar regions. Ice is a preserver and if there ever were organics on Mars and they got into that ice they will still be there today."

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