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Scientists said today they have "found proof" of water ice on Mars away from the polar ice caps, a discovery made by NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander.
The finding is a crucial first step toward learning whether the ground on Mars is hospitable, because all life as we know it requires water. Now scientists can get on with the business of studying the chemistry of Mars dirt in more detail.
When the probe took photos of a ditch it had dug four days before, scientists noticed that about eight small crumbs of a bright material had disappeared. They concluded those crumbs had been water ice buried under a thin layer of dirt that vaporized when Phoenix exposed them to the air.
The next questions to answer are what chemicals, minerals and organic compounds might be mixed in with the water.
"Just the fact that there's ice there doesn't tell you if it's habitable," Smith said. "With ice and no food it's not a habitable zone. We don't eat rocks — we have to have carbon chain materials that we ingest into our bodies to create new cells and give us energy. That's what we eat and that's what has to be there if you're going to have a habitable zone on Mars."