It Really Looks Like Ice on Mars

Article written: 31 May , 2008
Updated: 24 Dec , 2015
by

Take a look at this image sent back from the Phoenix lander. On Friday, Phoenix scientist Ray Arvidson said there may be ice directly under the Phoenix lander, exposed in the blast zone by the retrorockets used for Phoenix’s soft landing. Friday’s image showed a small portion of the exposed area that looks brighter and smoother than the surrounding soil. On Saturday, Sol 5 for Phoenix on Mars, a new image shows a greater portion of the area under the lander. Scientists say the abundance of excavated smooth and level surfaces adds evidence to a hypothesis that the underlying material is an ice table covered by a thin blanket of soil. This is just what the Phoenix mission was hoping to find, and how incredible to land directly over your goal.

The bright-looking surface material in the center, where the image is partly overexposed, may not be inherently brighter than the foreground material in shadow. But the scientists are calling this area “Holy Cow.” Reportedly (via Emily at the Planetary Society) that’s exactly the phrase exclaimed when this image was returned. More pictures of this feature will be imaged using different exposures in an effort to determine if this really is ice.

The other interesting aspect of this image is that the retrorocket nozzles are visible right at the top of the image.

We’ll keep you posted when there’s more information and data available on the area under the lander.

Sources: Phoenix, Planetary Blog


57 Responses

  1. GI Joe says

    I am so happy that New Mexico has ice. I hear that’s easily converted into drinking water.

    City officials throughout the state will be happy to hear about NASA’s new discovery.

  2. Wouldn’t it be amusing if this was an isolated patch right under the lander… and the digger couldn’t reach it… and there turned out to be no such other patch in reach of the digger?

    (Looking forward to this evil thought being proved wrong…)

  3. Silver Thread says

    I’m sort of intrigued as to why the Rockets didn’t melt the ice since it appears to be directly beneath them.

  4. rogueweapon says

    why are these pictures in black and white? I’ve noticed it on a bunch of different NASA photos from our solar system that recently surfaced. stuff like this gives credence to Richard Hoglands views that NASA manipulates the color pallets to hide the true nature of the mars atmosphere.

  5. Molecular says

    Indeed, a color photo would clearly show where the ice begins, and the dirt ends.

  6. Kevin White says

    Silver Thread: maybe they did melt a little bit of it, but it’s well below freezing there. I imagine liquid water, if it were possible to be in a liquid form, would freeze in an awful hurry at those temperatures.

    I’m not sure how the sublimation effect would affect that though.

  7. autumn says

    Layering filters over the digital setection devices allows much more data to be obtained. Black and white is simply the data without using overlying filters.
    @ Rougeweapon,
    There has never been even a single scintilla to support any of Hogland’s claims. The simple fact that he is able to continue to spout his inane rants is proof that there is not any murderous conspiricy against his claims.
    Sure, he’s not paranoid if there is a gun pointed at him, but given the evidence, i.e., he is alive, his belief in the gun is, at best, insane.

    To simplify, he’s utterly divorced from reality.
    For a real miracle, try to argue that he has even a toe in the ground of empirical science.

  8. Matt says

    I thinks it’s just a lighter coloured material rather than water because if you notice the nearer area that got exposed in the blast zone is pebble and soil material and rocks in the direct sunlight in the background show up as bright white so it’s probably just because it’s in the light unfortunately.

  9. Matt says

    Holding out for it to be ice though I suppose it could be pebbly and dusty ice anyway I’m not exactly an expert in ice on earth let alone another planet

  10. Kevin F. says

    This is just what the Phoenix mission was hoping to find, and how incredible to land directly over your goal.

    Which makes twice. Opportunity landed dack smab on top of exposed bedrock and the hematite it was looking for.

  11. rogueweapon says

    AUTUMN,
    the rover is a multimillion dollar machine equipped with top of the line technology and optics. This isn’t 1960s technology. There is no reason for black an white photos. You shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss Hogland’s research. NASA is by no means an honest and forthcoming agency, remember it was full of paperclip nazi scientist.

  12. Wizardd says

    These images are in grayscale since they are captured in grayscale. They have an calibration object onboard the Phoenix. By comparing the gray colours in the pictures to that calibration object they can add colours to pictures. That’s how NASA has done imaging for a long time. Colour images would also use more bandwidth than grayscale images.

    Mars Express has already got sniffs about the ice with it’s accurate radar. There is large amount of ice, and it’s covered with thin layer of martian soil.

    The image of the area where Phoenix landed gives a nice view of the region where it is. Wide flat plains.

    With the latest decade of Mars research done by probes, scientists have formed a pretty clear picture of planet Mars. The amount of images and raw data is just absolutely massive.

  13. Wizardd says

    To make it clear. Capturing images in grayscale doesn’t have anything to do how advance the camera and optics are. It isn’t any older technology.

    It’s simply just technique wich is used.

    Even Hubble Space Telescope is doing grayscale imaging.

    And Earths most massive telescopes like VLT and Kecks.

  14. Andy C says

    rogueweapon,

    The greyscale images are released first to allow immediate analysis whilst waiting for the post-processing operations required to ensure that the colours are represented correctly.

    Autumn was quite correct in stating that the greyscale approach allows more data to be obtained; installing a CCD capable of directly producing colour images would dramatically reduce the resolution (or dramticallt increase the size and weight) of the CCD, because you would now need 3 light collecting bins (red, green, and blue) for each pixel, rather than a single bin, with (or without) the appropriate filter.

  15. chichi says

    if nasa can make color images from black/white images then whats the problem?

    if you can do it yourself in photoshop then tll me how….i’ll color it myself then :S

  16. Thanks to everyone who has helped clarify why the initial images are in black and white. As soon as the images have been processed for color, they’ll post them. Please: NASA is not “hiding” anything, and indeed, the Phoenix science team has been posting their images online almost as soon as Phoenix sends them to Earth. Phoenix Principal Investigator Peter Smith has said repeatedly that they want this to be a mission for everyone, for the whole world to share in Phoenix’s discoveries.

  17. Jorge says

    You can’t win with these guys. If the teams withheld the release of images until they got colour pictures, the silly and ignorant would claim that NASA was conspiracing, only letting the public see what they wanted it to see. If the teams release every single image they get right away, the silly and ignorant claim that the fact that it’s not in colour means they are conspiracing to obscure the true colours of Mars. How stupid can it get?

    The simple fact is: space cameras are all in grayscale. They get colour pictures by taking repeated photos through different filters. If you shoot in grayscale through a red filter, then shoot again through a green filter, then re-shoot through a blue one and then combine the three photos, you get a photo in natural colours. Space cameras typically add to these several other filters that generate ultraviolet and infrared images. Why?

    Because typically there’s time to take repeated photos of the same object, because the use of filters makes the cameras more versatile, and because you get much more spacial resolution if you use this technique than you would if you had to pack your camera with detectors that are sensitive to various wavelengths. You don’t need to be a brain surgeon or a rocket scientist to understand this: if you have a 10×10 units area you can put your detectors in, and each of your detectors occupy 1 square unit, you can pack 100 into it. If all of these 100 are used to generate the image, in greyscale, your resolution will be 3 times better than it’d be if you had to pack into it 33 red detectors, 33 blue ones and 34 green ones.

  18. John K says

    NASA has some raw images recently posted of closer views of the white area under the lander.
    http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/phoenix/images/index.html
    Don’t know if it is ice, but it sure as heck has frozen melt characteristics, and in what may be thinner coverage areas, it appears somewhat translucent…

  19. Kevin White says

    Thanks Jorge.

    I wonder about the bit depth. Is this camera capturing 8 bit grayscale, or 10 bit, or a full 24 bits? I haven’t been able to find that information, but it’s something I’m curious about.

  20. ... says

    Nasa isn’t hiding anything. I don’t understand why some people still say that Nasa fake their rover landings. You have to be a complete idiot to believe that.

  21. Andy C says

    Kevin,

    I’m not sure about the bit depth of the RAC, but the SSI camera is 12-bit; I’d guess it’s the same for RAC… but that is just a guess. SSI spec can be found here:

    http://www.lpl.arizona.edu/~umpire/professional/papers/1999JE001116.pdf

    Andy

  22. Andy C says

    I should add to that last post… the SSI for Phoenix is apparently the same as from the Mars Polar Lander, which is what that doc refers to.

  23. chichi says

    how do they process the pictures to color? and how? is it possible to do it yourself? like photoshop? i know its something with the color dial

  24. Andre says

    “It really looks like ice on Mars”

    I have seen photos of mars covered in white many times, specially the poles. So, of course, there is ice on Mars.

    I´m very excited with this mission and all the information we will gather but could somebody explain what´s the big deal so far ?

    PS: And please, keep this “NASA hiding something” story to the X-Files forum.
    It is amazing that we can see so much as it happens.

  25. The Scott says

    Oh my god.

    This is ridiculous.

    First, you want me to believe that the missions never left earth. Then you want me to believe that NASA actually does take pictures of Mars from the surface and then messes with the colors to hide something?

    Why don’t you go home, take a long hot bath and think real hard about what inane bee ess you actually want me to believe, and then come back and get your story straight.

    Here. This should be all you need to know to determine if NASA is messing with the colors. Go out and get a telescope and a spectrograph. You can get one at the physics department of any college where they teach physics or astronomy.

    With these two devices (both invented more than 400 years ago) you can determine what elements and compounds are actually in the atmosphere of Mars by -direct observation-. From there you can extrapolate what color the sky should be, because when the light from Mars’ atmosphere shines through the spectrograph, you are looking at the signature of the atmosphere’s real color.

    *I* don’t have to take anyone’s word for it. *I* know Hogland is full of it. *You* are a sheep, and need to stand on your own two feet and quit falling for every shovel load of crap everyone throws at you. NASA could care less about whether people think they are hiding anything… you know why? Its called “clear conscience”.

    Wake up. Join the human race.

  26. old man says

    It used to be that scientists wouldn’t publish results until they were certain by way of tests. Now we have these yahoos with the mars robots shooting their mouths off prior to knowing anything. They did that with the rovers too. I think it reflects poorly when they have to continually “eat crow” – “oh, its just a rock”. Not unlike the “face on mars”, but now the scientists are getting into the act. Very unprofessional.

  27. Andy C says

    chichi,

    > how do they process the pictures to color?…

    I can’t say exactly how the Phoenix images are being processed, but I would recommend that you take a look at the FITS Liberator plug-in for Photoshop, which is used for processing Hubble and VLT images.

    http://www.spacetelescope.org/projects/fits_liberator/

    I don’t know if the Phoenix images are/will be available in the FITS file format (but I would hope so).

  28. ibmetom says

    I’m Canadian, I won’t believe it until they find a puck.

  29. rich says

    Maybe the retrorockets blew away the ‘soil’ that had been covering the ice. This might explain why there appears to be mounds of ‘soil’ in the foreground and the localisation.

  30. Stranger says

    “I’m sort of intrigued as to why the Rockets didn’t melt the ice since it appears to be directly beneath them.”

    The rockets may have melted the ice initially; however, the ice probably froze back over fairly quickly. Or maybe not. Who knows.

  31. Justin says

    Scientists have known for a very long time that ice existed on the northern region of Mars, it’s ground water that they are looking for.

  32. Oscar says

    “how do they process the pictures to color? and how? is it possible to do it yourself? like photoshop? i know its something with the color dial”

    You put the red filter in front of the monochrome sensor and take an exposure, repeat for green and blue getting 3 images.

    You then open up photoshop, drop the red photo into the red plane, the green photo into the green plane, and the blue photo into the blue plane.
    You’ll need to make sure that the images are in registration with each other and then use the histogram tool to correct the color balance.

  33. brian says

    Hmm, if you compare the “ice” to the patch of dust in the left foreground, then it looks a LOT like it really isn’t ice at all, but just another dusty patch which has been overexposed and whited out due to being in direct sunlight rather than the shadow of the rover.

    I think NASA may have jumped the gun massively here. Presumably that dusty patch in the foreground was also exposed by the retro rockets in exactly the same way, but it doesn’t look at all like ice.

    Not that I’m saying there isn’t ice there somewhere, but I don’t think there’s any in this photograph.

  34. Jorge says

    On the colour issue and how Phoenix cameras work, Emily at the Planetary Society has some cool info in her latest Phoenix post. I hope she won’t mind me quoting her:

    The robotic arm camera gets color data in a different way than most spacecraft cameras do. Most space cameras get color images by placing filters across their optical paths that block out all but a small range of wavelengths. Take three such images with different filters and you can create a color image. The robotic arm camera has no filters. Instead, it has three sets of light-emitting diodes (LEDs), in red, green, and blue. To get information in red wavelengths, they illuminate their target with red light and take the picture. This works much better in dark, shadowed areas like the inside of a trench than it does in brightly illuminated regions;

    So no filters for this one, but the principle is pretty much the same (although I fail to see how this works for panoramic views).

    I also wrote something that isn’t entirely true in my last comment: not all space cameras are black and white. Most are, but not all. New Horizons has a highres grayscale camera for details and a lowres colour camera for colour. I guess it will speed by its targets too quickly to allow for the taking of the typical three (or more) consecutive pictures that are used to compose a colour photo. Low illumination and the consequent need for longer exposures may also be a factor.

  35. GI Joe says

    @ibmeton:

    I’m American and I won’t believe it until they find guns.

  36. Im british and im also 17. I wont believe it until I see a martion sending a bebo comment to Gordon Brown with tips on how to be a rubbish primeminister!

  37. The reasons given for not having color images are specious at best.

    Government agencies put national security above open science and the truth. To believe otherwise is to be a sheep.

  38. to the idiots says

    Look at the posts below before bitchin about the black and white photos.

  39. autumn says

    I imagine that any hypothetical ice would not be of the pristine variety. Wouldn’t it be more of an ice/mud slurry?
    I lived in New Jersey when I was young, and I don’t recall ever seeing ice that looked like, well, ice. It was all very colorful and had a dirt-like texture.

  40. Surinder says

    It may not be ice. Just have a look at the peable at top left, which is also of same color. It may be the bigger rock of same type.

  41. Jaco says

    What if it’s a huge alien starship under the soil of mars, and that they have beens spying on us all of this time? Most unlikely 🙂 But if that is really ice, it would really be great for future manned missions.

    The way that the grayscale -> color conversion works, is, you take a picture in grayscale with a blue, green, and red filter. So you get 3 grayscale images. But then you layer them over eachother, specifying which is RGB, then you get the full color image. Google for “channels in photoshop”, that should give you enough to start with.

  42. Glenn says

    Look in the lower right hand area of image lg_1152 on the phoenix lander site and you will see, quite clearly, what appears to be a half-buried spring. Boy, I sure hope it’s something that fell off the lander, cuz if it isn’t…. eeek!

  43. Poohat says

    Oh god , the people who always think NASA and everything is one giant conspiracy are hilarious…OMG B&W photo’s a conspiracy to hide the TRUE color of Mars… Ummm look up into the sky at Mars , it’s red…

    Common sense aint so common… OMG COnspiracy!

  44. David S says

    “You’ll need to make sure that the images are in registration with each other and then use the histogram tool to correct the color balance.”

    this is correct. I will say though that I’ve rebalanced some of the color Mars photos, and you do get a less pink shy, and browner soil that way. It’s still very red, but with more details, and in cases where these no dust in the sky, a pale blue color. You can clearly see that the histogram is off from channel to channel. Once you get them more lined up the color pops. The quickest way is to look for a metal part on the lander and make that neutral gray.

    I do color corrections in Photoshop for a living. I don’t think Nasa is doing anything underhanded, but they do make the photos more red. It’s real hard to balance color sometimes, and the method that they use to render the color doesn’t always help.

  45. Molecular says

    If no one has taken a look yet, there is a new image at the NASA website (posted 6-1-08), which I’ve tried to post a link to several times, although unsuccessfully, clearly and unmistakably, showing ice underneath Phoenix Lander. In this particular image, there even what appears to be 2 holes made where there the thrusters seem to have melted some of the ice. The ice itself is smooth and shiny……distinctly different from that of the surrounding dirt which has a blown away look. I’m sure this image will be posted somewhere on the internet next. 🙂

    On another note, if someone looks closely at the image inset with the above article, you’ll see that there are actually beads of water on the leg of the lander to the very left in that pic. Melted ice splashing underneath as Phoenix was landing. I just noticed that as I was typing this. 🙂

  46. alphonso richardson says

    Water? YaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaY!!
    Let’s mix the cocktails!

  47. Guy M. Broome says

    There’s also a much less thrilling and simple explanation… not to be a killjoy… but what do combustion reactions [i.e. the very type of reaction that propels the Phoenix lander] produce? Carbon dioxide and *water vapor*. Meaning, it seems entirely possible, and indeed likely, that the ice is directly below the lander because it came from the lander.

    Perhaps? Or has that been ruled out?

  48. gorrila says

    When it’s confirmed that there is ice just below the surface – will all the conspiricy theorists, and psuedo scientists who post their own half baked ideas please re-read their original posts, and think again before posting more nonsense

  49. Adam says

    I tried to post a link to a colored version of this picture, but my comment was not allowed for some reason.

    I have showed the photo to a few friends but it has stirred up more controversy, not because the “ice”, but because the transparent leg on the lander.

    While editing the photo, I originally assumed that leg at the top left of the picture was part of the lander. When I started adding color and contrast, It appeared to be more of a shadow. You can clearly see the ground “through” the leg.

    Judging from the angle of the other legs’ shadows, that shadow must be off in the distance. Take another look and judge for yourself.

  50. Doc B. says

    Adam, while your desire to edit the b/w photo is well intentioned, I’m glad that you recognize it is an art project and not an exercise in proof. One point though: the “Shadow Leg” is a leg. The “ground’ you are seeing “through it” is the same textured corrosion that is on all the legs and is not the ground at all. One could easily make this any color we liked and it would prove nothing as it is very subjective.

    To the conspiracy nut skeptics:
    The “ice” may be ice – melted and refrozen by the lander’s rocket — or it may be a smooth patch of rock exposed by the same. Who knows, but we will find out eventually. Its guys like you who question it that have made NASA into some evil money wasting fascist dictatorship instead of the visionary pioneer dreamers we once saw them as. Its the same attitude that calls Bush Evil and all Christians hypocrites. Lets all shut up and watch the cool stuff guys! Its the 21st century!

  51. Brandon says

    One thing that is worth thinking about, if you embark on a scientific journey determined to find something, chances are your interpretation of the data will some how show the result you are looking for. For example, if you are determined to find ice on mars and you send a probe on a mission called, “Find ice on mars” , When the data comes back, chances are you will be able to analyze it such that somehow you find ice on mars. I’m not saying that there is not ice there, just that we should all be skeptical.

  52. Adam says

    Doc B, Yes, the coloring was simply my interpretation of what it should look like, not meant to be a real photograph. I have also started to think that is the actual leg of the lander, but I do not agree that the other legs show the “same textured corrosion”, I would say the corrosion level on the other legs is about 1%, and the one in question is more like 50%. quite a difference there.

    While the rock pattern does change between the light and dark areas, the “corrosion” looks amazingly like the other mars rocks. I’m not suggesting the photo is fake, or it’s not on mars, or anything crazy, I just want to know what it is.

    A few people suggested:

    1. reflection of the rocks off the lander onto the leg.

    hard to believe that much reflection happens in a shaded area with not much loss of quality or distortion you’d expect on a curved surface.

    2. dust on the leg

    there’s a lot more dust on that one leg than the other legs, and this does not explain the “rocks” that appear “on” the leg.

    3. dust on the leg with drops of water causing the rock-like look.

    if there was water vaporized opun landing, I do not think it would condense into drops large enough to show the “washed off” rock-like spots we see.

    And for your corrosion idea, it seems most plausible. If one of the rockets aimed at the leg, it could cause it to look like that, and would be different than the others. This would hint at an error in the self-destructive design of the lander.

    I am a skeptic, but not an anti-nasa conspiracy theorist. (others yes, nasa no). Bush is evil, christians are hypocrites, I do enjoy the discoveries nasa makes, but that is not relevant to the story.

  53. dd says

    Doc B. – thank you for telling all of these questioning minds to shut up. How dare they not have faith in the big science! Good job calling them names too!

    We (the masses) have no way to confirm that there is any lander on Mars, let alone confirm what it finds- so have faith in NASA! Believe the unknowable, unprovable truths that men of letters hand down from the mount of big science, and keep your questioning mouth’s shut!

    (I don’t think Dubya is evil, and EVERYONE is a hypocrite to some degree)

  54. GUESSN says

    There has been fair amount of discussion whether the appearance of this ice “fits” what is expected and why it doesn’t appear to be melted.

    Atmospheric conditions at Phoenix’s location are not hospitable for typical melted ice you’d expect to see on Earth.

    Temperature aside, the atmospheric pressure on Mars is a fraction of what forum readers are sitting in. Liquid water would quickly turn to a gas at Phoenix’s location – similiar to a naked astronaut’s blood if he/she forgot to get dressed before going for a stroll on the moon.

    The Mars polar region cycles thru periods of freezing/thawing. Being in Canada and trying to dig a new pond in March, I’ve uncovered solid ice under dirt in the garden. The freeze/thaw of ice is similar to glaciers in mountains – dust and debris will get push aside, resulting in clear ice that can be melted, bottled and sold for twice the cost of gasoline!

  55. shall says

    i would be thrilled if this were actually proven to be ice…however is it possible that it could be glass? caused from superheating the sand upon landing?

  56. Hypernova says

    I think they have made some more discoveries since this article was published. It seems they now have even more evidence that there is frozen water directly beneath the Martian surface.

    Anyway, @GUESSN the guy who says he can bottle glacial water from the mountains and sell it for twice the cost of gasoline: Where on EARTH do you reside? See, the rest of the human race is having an energy crisis and gasoline/oil prices are hitting record highs with no end in site. I can buy a gallon of bottled spring water for ~$.99, that same $.99 buys me about 1/5th of a gallon of gas.

  57. Emiy says

    wow!
    this is cool.

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