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Frozen water found on Mars
( 2004-01-26 09:09) (Agencies)

The first all-European mission to Mars has confirmed the presence of frozen water on the planet, the project's leader said on Friday, as scientists seek to learn if life there ever existed.

"It shows that we may be able to find water in other areas on Mars... and that is very important for future missions to Mars,'' said project leader Michael McKay.

Mckay said confirmation of the presence of frozen water came in high resolution pictures of the planet's south pole beamed back from Mars Express, the mothership of the Beagle 2 probe which is feared to have crashed on landing on Mars a month ago.

"We can confirm what NASA has already found at the south pole, but now we have seen it during the summer time, when the carbon dioxide on the surface is thinner, and have discovered water-ice," McKay told a news conference at the European Space Agency's Space Operations Centre in Germany.

US President George W. Bush has announced plans to send humans back to the moon as early as 2015 and eventually to Mars, where scientists say previous NASA probes have sent back photographs indicating frozen water at the planet's poles.

The presence of ice on Earth's planetary neighbour would be promising if, as some astronomers believe, Mars was warm and wet at some point. Liquid water is a prerequisite for the development of Earth-type life.

The all-European mission had hoped to feed back data from the planet's surface, but the fate of Beagle 2 appears to have dashed hope of that.

A US mission has also hit problems, but after a period of garbled communications the Mars rover Spirit resumed sending data to Earth on Friday, according to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which manages the Mars project for NASA.

The six-wheeled craft landed on the red planet on January 3 for a planned three-month mission.

Despite Beagle 2's apparent loss, the European mission still has information from orbiting mothership Mars Express and the project's leaders showed its images"as seen through European eyes'' on Friday.

The European Space Agency's scientific director insisted the results were just the start of the discovery process.

"There's going to be much more to come in the next two years. We're just lifting the corner of the curtain," David Southwood told a news conference.

"We do have new things to tell you. Many scientists would be sceptical, but it's because we've got a great spacecraft and great new instrumentation and therefore we're seeing new things."

The upbeat news conference contrasted with the gloom of the past month over the failure to pick up signals from Beagle 2.

In the NASA mission, Spirit landed in the heart of Gusev Crater, a basin thought to have once held a gigantic lake.

Previous NASA probes, Global Surveyor and Odyssey, have sent pictures indicating frozen water at both the north and south poles of Mars, scientists say.

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