One tiny step further from the childhood of our species

1 08 2008

From Science News:

The Mars Phoenix Lander has officially detected water ice, mission scientists reported today.

The Phoenix team was surprised to detect the water ice in the latest sample delivered to the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer instrument, or TEGA instrument, said William Boynton, a TEGA co-investigator from the University of Arizona, during a press briefing.

Delivering an ice-rich sample to one of TEGA’s eight ovens proved to be a challenge for the scientists for the past month. When the latest two attempts failed, the team instead decided to dig and dump a sample of soil taken from just above the ice layer.

The analysis of this sample, however, showed that “this was icy soil,” Boynton said. The results show that when the oven heated the soil, some of the sample melted at 0o Celsius — the melting point of ice.

Past observations made with satellites orbiting Mars gave scientists their first clue that water ice might exist in the polar regions of Mars. But the results from the TEGA test are the first to provide direct confirmation of the existence of water ice.

Science kills people,” say the enemies of reason and the defenders of dogma, who devote substantial energy and money in the service of suppressing inquiry they deem heretical. The optimist in me likes to think that their efforts, which waste a lot of time and resources for all concerned in the short term, will prove Canute-like in the long run: against the background noise of religious persecution mania, “academic freedom” bills, anti-science educational administrations, and so on, our understanding of the natural universe deepens.

This is one of those days when I think we can justly proclaim: “Canute, meet the tide.”

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