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Thursday, December 13, 2001

Hints of Water

(Reuters) - NASA's Odyssey spacecraft, tightening its orbit around Mars for a mapping mission, has sniffed out big hydrogen deposits, possibly indicating extensive water ice, according to project scientists. "It is big," Bill Feldman of Los Alamos National Laboratory said, referring to the magnitude of the instrument's first, preliminary reading. Feldman, who is in charge of the neutron spectrometer aspect of the mission, said the results indicated large amounts of hydrogen on the surface, a likely sign of water ice. They "are precisely what you would expect for a very hydrogen-rich environment," Feldman said. Scientists know that water exists on Mars but so far have believed it is mostly frozen in the polar icecaps or drifting about the atmosphere in thin clouds. Scientists who have studied images of the Martian surface believe they have seen evidence that water once flowed there, carving out deep channels and canyons. Significant water ice deposits easily accessible on the surface of the planet would benefit any future Mars mission astronauts and make it much more likely that life might have existed on the planet. NASA scientists said they were excited by the initial indications of hydrogen deposits, describing the readings sent back as clearer, more definite and much earlier than had been expected. "We were expecting that it would take many orbits (to determine the presence of hydrogen)," said Stephen Saunders, a scientist on the Odyssey project. "But we saw it the very first time."

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- posted by Alex @ 19:49 EST