Camera on Arm Looks Beneath NASA Mars LanderOne thing to be careful of here. The picture shows a couple of white patches under the lander. Don't think of these as white sheets of ice. They are smooth like ice, but their color will still be that beautiful Mars Rusty Red. The whiteness is from over exposure...which may have been intentional.
A view of the ground underneath NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander adds to evidence that descent thrusters dispersed overlying soil and exposed a harder substrate that may be ice.
The image received Friday night from the spacecraft's Robotic Arm Camera shows patches of smooth and level surfaces beneath the thrusters.
"This suggests we have an ice table under a thin layer of loose soil," said the lead scientist for the Robotic Arm Camera, Horst Uwe Keller of Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Katlenburg- Lindau, Germany.
"We were expecting to find ice within two to six inches of the surface," said Peter Smith of the University of Arizona, Tucson, principal investigator for Phoenix. "The thrusters have excavated two to six inches and, sure enough, we see something that looks like ice. It's not impossible that it's something else, but our leading interpretation is ice."
Ice on Mars?
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has already detected the likely presence of subsurface ice around the Martian poles, with estimates the ice layer could be found from 2cm - 10cm below the reddish dust. I wondered what would happen when the Phoenix Mars Lander's thrusters kicked in during its final descent to the surface. Would it clear enough dust away to make the ice visible? Would it blast friable ice out of reach of the robot arm? From yesterday's press conference, it sounds like the former occurred...though there is still some room for doubt.