Photographic evidence settles the debate over the nature of the white material seen in photographs sent back by the craft. As seen in lower left of this image, chunks of the ice sublimed (changed directly from solid to gas) over the course of four days, after the lander's digging exposed them.
"It must be ice," said the Phoenix Lander's lead investigator, Peter Smith. "These little clumps completely disappearing over the course of a few days, that is perfect evidence that it's ice."
The confirmation that water ice exists in the area directly surrounding the lander is big and good news for the Martian mission. NASA's stated goal for the Mars Phoenix was to find exactly this -- water ice -- and then analyze it. With the latest news, the first step is accomplished. All that's left now is to get the water into the Phoenix's instruments, a task which has occasionally proven more difficult than anticipated.
Still, this is the best opportunity that humanity has ever had to analyze extraterrestrial water in any form. That had the Phoenix Lander's persona fired up.
"Are you ready to celebrate? Well, get ready: We have ICE!!!!! Yes, ICE, *WATER ICE* on Mars! w00t!!! Best day ever!!" the Mars Phoenix Lander tweeted at about 5:15 pm.
Their suspicions about water ice beneath the surface of Mars confirmed, scientists and the world will have renewed interest in the outcome of the soil analyses currently being conducted by the lander.
The samples are being examined for traces of organic molecules, among other substances, but the lander does not have instruments that could directly detect life.