Another Major Mars Water Announcement Coming Soon

2001 Mars OdysseyDr. Jim Garvin, Lead Scientist of NASA's Mars Exploration Program said today that a major announcement is forthcoming about the presence of water ice just under the surface of Mars. Garvin made his comments at a Mars Exploration Breakfast sponsored on Capitol Hill by Lockheed Martin and Ball Aerospace.

According to Garvin the announcement's timing depends on the process required to get the results reviewed and then published in a scientific journal. Garvin said that this was also being done out of respect for the principal investigator behind the announcement "who has been waiting twenty years" for this data.

NASA has scheduled a Space Science update for next Thursday, 30 May at 12:00 noon EDT- which is highly suggestive of the time a press embargo would lift for an article appearing in that week's issue of Science magazine.

Based on Garvin's hints, this could certainly be in reference to Professor William V. Boynton at the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory who directed the design and construction of the Gamma Ray Spectrometer (GRS) now onboard the Mars Odyssey spacecraft. An earlier version of this instrument, built by Boynton, was aboard the ill-fated Mars Observer mission which blew up as it approached Mars in 1993.

In a press release in February 2002 Boynton said "I am really excited about finally getting to see real Mars data. I started this project in 1985, and now we are down to just hours before we see the results. I can imagine it must be like giving birth, except here we have a 17-year gestation period."

Garvin could also be referring (more likely) Bill Feldman, Los Alamos National Laboratory, whose team built the neutron spectrometer which is also aboard Odyssey. This instrument is designed to map the abundance of water in the upper meter of Mars' soil. Feldman's team also had a similar instrument aboard Mars Observer.

Garvin showed some new images, very similar to an earlier neutron graphic of Mars' south pole released in March 2002, which suggest that there is a lot of water just under the surface of Mars' northern polar regions as well. The view shown by Garvin was looking straight down at the north pole of Mars. The region where water ice is suspected to exist at the north pole extend much further to the equator (i.e. the deep blue portions of the image, indicative of soil enriched in hydrogen, was much larger) than they do in the initial neutron images of the south pole.

Earlier this year NASA scientists were stunned when the first data from Odyssey seemed to be showing abundant water ice just under the surface of Mars in the southern regions of the planet. According to a NASA statement issued at the time "the high hydrogen content is most likely due to water ice, though the amount of ice cannot be quantified yet. Further analysis will be conducted to confirm the interpretation."

The American Geophysical Union is holding its annual meeting in Washington, DC next week. There is a session starting at 1:30 EDT - just after the Space Science Update at NASA headquarters is going to conclude, a few blocks away, Boynton and Feldman will be presenting a number of jointly-authored papers:

  • "Near-surface Ice on Mars: Early Results from the 2001 Mars Odyssey Gamma Ray Spectrometer (GRS) Instrument Suite"

  • "Global Distribution of Martian Volatiles During Northern Winter: Mars Odyssey Neutron Spectrometer Results"

  • "Hydrogen Concentration In The Martian Southern Hemisphere Near Ls = 0."

    Related links

  • 1 March 2002: NASA's Mars Odyssey Unveils Early Science Results

  • 4 April 2001: Proven Los Alamos technology on trek to Mars

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