It’s a Question Somebody’s Bound to Ask
They’ve found frozen water on Mars. This is a BIG deal, even though people have known for years that Mars has water locked away in permafrost and as a huge component of one of the polar caps. So, why is the Phoenix Lander’s confirmation of water ice such big news? Because we can reach that ice and study it. As Peter Smith, the principal investigator for the mission told the press a couple of days ago, “The truth we’re looking for is is not just looking at ice. It’s in finding out the mineral, chemicals, and hopefully the organic materials associated with these discoveries.”
Finding out what’s dissolved in the water that made the ice Phoenix is studying will tell Smith and his gang of scientists a great deal about whether Mars has (or ever did have) conditions where life might thrive. You could do the same thing with frozen water here on Earth, and figure out from various dissolved minerals and their abundances (how much of them is in the water) a lot about the life that exists here on our planet and its effect on the environment. Every living thing changes its environment a little (or sometimes a lot), and those changes show up as chemical abundance shifts and (in the case of fossils) in geologic layers, or as organic compounds mixed with soil and rock. Water is part of the equation of life, so confirming its existence with a lander that has an onboard chemical analysis lab is a great leap forward. Now we can melt that ice and study it. I can’t wait to find out what it’s telling us!