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NOVA scienceNOW: Phoenix Mars Lander

Program Overview

This segment presents the Phoenix Mars Mission and its search for water and other chemical elements on Mars.

This NOVA scienceNOW segment:

  • explains that an earlier NASA Mars mission, the Mars Odyssey orbiter, detected the presence of hydrogen in the top layer of the martian surface. However, it was unclear whether this hydrogen was associated with water.

  • points out that Phoenix's goal is to learn if water is present in the upper layers of Mars and to look for the building blocks of life—sulfur, nitrogen, phosphorus, and carbon.

  • mentions that Phoenix landed flawlessly on May 25, 2008 in the northern polar region of Mars, which has an ice cap of frozen carbon dioxide.

  • notes that Phoenix has two laboratories to test soil samples. One analyzes samples by wetting them with water. The other heats and analyzes them.

  • describes the testing of a clumpy soil mass that strongly suggests the presence of water ice.

  • reports that Phoenix's soil analysis indicates conditions on Mars that are found in environments on Earth that support the growth of microbes.

  • concludes that if evidence for life is found on Mars, then life may exist in many places in the universe.

Taping Rights: Can be used up to one year after the program is recorded off the air.

Teacher's Guide
NOVA scienceNOW: Phoenix Mars Lander