White material was uncovered by the Phoenix Lander remote robot digger arm, the most amazingly ultra-tech bucket and spade ever to exist. It disappeared over time and exposure to sunlight, meaning that it's either frozen liquid or David Copperfield has been teaching salt some of his act. NASA scientists are going for the former, in between high-fiving each other.
If a space-travel enthusiast was given a magic lamp with a genie by Father Christmas, he still wouldn't have dared to ask for news this good. Water is one of the most vital of natural resources - never mind how your puny fleshbag gets very whiny (then very silent) after a few days without: the computer you're using, the desk its on, even the electricity powering it - not one of those was made without massive water costs.
Every industry on Earth is based on an assumed infinite supply of water - an easy state to reach when seventy per cent of your planet is covered in the stuff. But while the life giving liquid is easy to find and easier to pour, getting it off planet needs a lot more than a big hose. The huge thrust (fuel) cost for every kilo of matter lifted off planet makes water the most expensive essential for human life.
Spacecraft are masterpieces of recycling, reducing the huge initial costs of getting enough of the stuff into space. As well as giving rise to one of the least-talked about aspects of space exploration: "boldly going where no one has gone before" gets a lot more press than "to boldly drink your own filtered urine." But the presence of heavenly H20 really changes the entire picture of planetary exploration.
Never mind survival or camp supplies - the word "terraforming" comes into play with this discovery. That is a very, very big word - in implication and incredibility - and all made possible by some white patches on a picture.
Posted by Luke McKinney.