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Sun, Jan 25, 2004

European Mars Probe Reveals Strong Evidence Of Water

What We've Long Suspected Is True

As American scientists struggle to contact their Spirit rover and Europeans have virtually given up hope of finding their Mars lander, Beagle 2, the EU orbiter Mars Express has confirmed what was long suspected about the Red Planet: There was once an abundance of water.

"I think we can firmly say 'yes, there was water acting on the surface of Mars," said European Space Agency scientist Gerhard Neukum.

The latest images of Mars from the European space vehicle show stunning images of the Hellas Basin, featuring a channel that was most likely cut by flowing water. At the bottom of the river-cut valleys, sediment left by the waters as they eroded the banks of the unearthly river.

The Mars Express continues to orbit, approximately 125 miles above the surface of the planet, taking incredibly fine-detailed shots of Mars.

"This is no ordinary spacecraft," said David Southwood, ESA's head of science. "This is only the beginning. There is more to come in the next two years."

Like the Spirit and Opportunity rovers, Mars Express uses a stereoscopic camera to capture up to a two-meter resolution of the Martian surface. Using the pictures, German scientists have even created a computer simulation that shows what it would be like to fly low over Mars in an aircraft.

The most significant area of water exploration is the Martian south pole, according to scientists. Already, the American orbiter Mars Odyssey has picked up significant evidence that there's water mixed in with the frozen CO2 (dry ice) at the southern end of Mars. Using a different technique to look for water, the Mars Express determination serves as confirmation that water does indeed exist on the surface of Mars at it's south pole. At the end of its two-year mission to explore a strange new world, Mars Express will have accurately gauged the amount of water on the surface and locked up in rock formations -- vital information for any future manned mission to the Red Planet.

FMI: http://sci.esa.int/science-e/www/area/index.cfm?fareaid=9

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