Mars is a water planet?

A European spacecraft orbiting Mars has produced the most direct evidence yet that water once flowed on the now barren surface of the Red Planet — raising the possibility of life evolving beyond the Earth.

Instruments on board the spacecraft, named Mars Express, detected water vapour in the atmosphere as well as water-ice in the southern polar cap.

"I think we can firmly say, yes, there was water acting on the surface of Mars," Gerhard Neukum, one of the scientists involved in the mission, told the British Broadcasting Corp. "We have seen [these formations] before, but this is in a new area of the planet and extends our knowledge of these surface features," Prof. Stooke said. However, he cautioned that "you can't guarantee that every time you see a layer of sediment, it has been deposited in water." The layered rocks could have been formed by ash from ancient volcanoes or sands deposited by Martian winds, - informs &to= ' target=_blank>Globe and Mail

While scientists have long believed that the planet's polar caps contain frozen water, the findings were based on indirect methods such as analysis of temperature data or the detection of traces of hydrogen. European scientists said their discovery was based on analysis of vapors of water molecules detected by the infrared camera aboard the Mars Express spacecraft that is circling the Red Planet's south pole. "You look at the picture, look at the fingerprint and say this is water ice," said Allen Moorehouse, the project's manager of spacecraft operations. "This is the first time it's been detected on the ground. This is the first direct confirmation."

If Mars once had surface water, it had the potential to support life — although Moorehouse cautioned that it was too early to draw conclusions. The Mars Express orbiter is part of Europe's first mission to Mars. Mars Express hit orbit Dec. 25 and began transmitting its first data from the planet this month, starting with high-resolution pictures of the surface that captured in detail a huge martian canyon. Its companion Beagle 2 lander, released toward the surface Dec. 19, hasn't been heard from since its own scheduled landing on Dec. 25.

NASA has also run into trouble with contacting its Spirit rover this week, but NASA engineers got a 10-minute signal Friday and planned further communications with it in an effort to diagnose and possibly patch up their ailing robotic patients on Mars, reports &to=' target=_blank>FOXNews

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