May 30, 2008

Phoenix's Retrorockets Unveil Possible Ice

Today's news release from the Phoenix lander is very exciting: in the retrorocket blast zone, near a footpad, scientists believe there may be water-ice chunks uncovered by the blast.

This is quicker than anyone could have imagined and very exciting. The only problem right now is that the image sent back was in black and white, which all CCD cameras inherently are, and we won't have a color image until probably tomorrow after the color is added.

Phil Plait at the Bad Astronomy blog has a great article about why CCD cameras take pictures in bacl and white, and how we essentially "trick" them into creating highly detailed color pictures.

I'm very excited about the possibility of water-ice that close to the surface. I thought the lander would find ice, just not so close to the surface. Perhaps if there's an ice layer, there's liquid water below. And who knows what that could mean. Why water? Phoenix says it best. (Space Science teachers, that links a freebie; use it!)

The digging arm will dig very slowly over the next couple of months, carefully analyzing each bit of soil as it goes ever deeper. We've barely just scratched the surface and already the discoveries are fascinating.