NASA: "We have water" on Mars.

NASA confirms, beyond any earthly doubt, that water really really really does exist on Mars.

Laboratory tests aboard NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander have identified water in a soil sample. The lander's robotic arm delivered the sample Wednesday to an instrument that identifies vapors produced by the heating of samples.

"We have water," said William Boynton of the University of Arizona, lead scientist for the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer, or TEGA. "We've seen evidence for this water ice before in observations by the Mars Odyssey orbiter and in disappearing chunks observed by Phoenix last month, but this is the first time Martian water has been touched and tasted."

NASA Spacecraft Confirms Martian Water, Mission Extended (

I've also been enjoying the cheerful tweets of the Mars Rover, where I first heard this news. The future is pretty terrific, you know? And it's here.


  1. Wow, neat. And I love how NASA doesn’t take a stodgy approach to their web news distribution.

  2. How long until Coca-Cola or Pepsi start bottling and shipping back “genuine” Martian water and what will they name it?

  3. I, for one, am eagerly awaiting the launch of a new perfume named EAU DU MARS. Or Chanel No. 4 for short.

  4. So this brings up a few more questions:

    1) Was there life on mars?
    2) is there currently life on mars?
    3) If so, What rights does that life have?

  5. Is there enough water to do anything with? Or is this just water from comets crashing into Mars’ atmosphere?

  6. And this makes possible the Mars direct profile where a robotic craft is sent, deploys a nuclear reactor, harvests water with rovers, and makes its own fuel. All the explorers need to do is arrive and claim the fully fueled spacecraft once it is time to return to Earth.

  7. I’m sorry to say it, people, but a tone of cheerful space-age excitement like something out of Tom Swift is really not what’s called for here. Rather, savor this kind of thing as the final fruits of a great period in the history of human culture, the few in which we left the planet and, ever so briefly, went to explore the frontier. Savor it with a certain sadness, though, because the period is in decline — no, really it’s just over — and there is no reason to think — not economic, not technological, not anything — that we’re going into space in any serious way, anytime while we or our children are alive.

    The future was pretty terrific, yeah? But it’s over.

  8. Well, everyone who ever read “Red Mars” (and Green Mars and Blue Mars) “knows” that there is a whole ocean underneath the surface there.

    Dunno if it will turn out to be that much, but it seems like there are quite a lot of people who are less than surprised about these findings.

    Oh yeah, and it doesn’t seem like we will be able to keep Kim Stanley Robinson’s schedule for colonizing Mars either …

  9. #12 – I was going to say you should change your name to Gloomy Gus. But I guess C’mon Sour works just as well.

  10. #12 No no longer term thinking please…500 years out…I think that if it can our “biome” will expand to new areas, seems to have been the ancient pattern for it to do so. My guess is that even now there’s stuff on the Landers/Rovers which may be sniffing around…I mean earth microbes.I could be wrong, I don’t know how sterile our probes have been.
    Also we know of asteroid/meteor strikes…simple intelligence would indicate trying to lessen the odds of extinction, via the old method of not keeping all our “eggs” in one basket.
    Finally “excitement ” is not called for as much as competent engineering together with the cessation of the extravagant diversion of social surpluses into ever higher forms of control/death tech…that is, a simple change of spending priorities.

  11. So, were the Sixties great because we believed in a future in space, or did we believe in a future in space because of … the Sixties?

  12. CMONSOUR@12: It’d better not be over, with the way we’re using up this planet…

    MDHATTER@15: You beat me to the Bowie reference!

  13. “I, for one, am eagerly awaiting the launch of a new perfume named EAU DU MARS.”

    It smells like dirt and leaves a red stain on your neck. Ahhhhh….

  14. So what’s next on this mission’s agenda? Are they equipped to make any other interesting observations? Or is this just ‘Mission Accomplished’ and back to designing the next Mars lander?

  15. never mind water. we think cause we need water all other life forms need water! maybe other life forms are having dust bills sent with threating letters :)

  16. *runs a finger down his checklist*

    New spaceships? Confirmed. Cheers, Mr. Rutan.
    Orbit stations in dev? Confirmed. Cheers, Mr. Bigelow.
    Scads of pioneering spirit? Confirmed. Cheers, Mr. Stone.
    Fusion power on the way? Confirmed. Cheers, Dr. Bussard, and Gh0dspeed.
    Necessities of all the above on our nearest significant neighbour? Confirmed. Cheers, Phoenix.

    I’m packed. When do we leave?

  17. i’ve been enjoying the martian tweets, too, but every time one pops up i find myself thinking, “who composes these?” — xeni, can you use the awesome power of boing boing for more good and find out? geeky, inquiring minds what to know these things! someone deserves their 15+ minutes of fame!

  18. Anyone else ever get those moments where you think “woah, I’m living in the future!”?

    The sequence of events was: Standing in a shop, I got a text message from Twitter, opened it to see a near-realtime update on the activities of a semi-autonimous robot that’s currently on a different planet doing spectrographic analyses of its water. A few taps on my phone’s touchscreen later, I was looking at recent photos of the martian soil and reading the mission’s plans for tomorrow, while my email synched in the background. All on a hanheld and fairly inexpensive gizmo the size of a cigarette packet.

    None of this is at all out of the ordinary for the modern geek. But, seriously, if you’d described that scene to me 15 years ago I would’ve laughed at you. Every now and again I find myself stepping back, looking at the tech I play with daily and being astonished at the mini-miracles we take for granted.

    Franko: I read an interview with the author recently but, for the life of me, can’t remember where. All I can remember from it is that the author is female and a fairly high-ranking scientist/engineer who works in Phoenix’s mission control. According to the interview, the Twitter feed started as, at best, a semi-official hobby; even though it’s so popular she still writes them in her spare time.

  19. It’s not just you, Bugs. Sometimes I just wake up grinning, and don’t stop all day.

    And now, there’s water on Mars. I’m going to bed.


  20. #29:

    Franko: I read an interview with the author recently but, for the life of me, can’t remember where. All I can remember from it is that the author is female and a fairly high-ranking scientist/engineer who works in Phoenix’s mission control.

    Bugs, that sounds right to me too. I was thinking one of the Wired blogs.

  21. So what’s P(life|water)? Based on all the micro-environments on Earth, it seems pretty high. We’ve found life in the most unexpected place on Earth and the martian environment doesn’t seem that hostile when compared to volcanic vents and stuff.

  22. I don’t want to bring everyone down (to Earth, heh), but I’d like to make a somewhat contrarian remark.

    Before eveyone gets the wrong idea about me let me say I, too, am truly excited about the idea of space travel and extraterrestrial life, especially the intelligent kind (FSM knows that kind is hard enough to find on this planet). I did “space” and “rocket” projects from elementary through high school. I “did” Star Trek as a youngster even when my contemporaries mocked me for it. I think NASA is one of the best things the U.S. government has provided us.

    But now, while I don’t want to be fatalistic like cmonsour @#12, I do feel a little uneasy about the the raw euphoria in this thread. Yes, long term this is potentially very cool. But practically, knowing how we as a species continually foul things up, I think we need to stir some corcern into the recipe.

    Semi-joke: We’re not only melting the ice on this planet as fast as we can, now we’re doing on the next one over.

    I mean, if we can’t figure out the basics of getting along together, managing our limited energy resources, our waste production, or even our financial resources (the U.S. government can’t balance its budget? why should anybody else?), what is the moral justification for eagerly jumping to the other celestial bodies in the neighborhood and exploiting their resources, leaving our junk there, and — this is really the big one — wreaking who knows what kind of havoc with other life forms and ecosystems.

    Just because we have the technology to do something, doesn’t mean we should. I hope we ‘ll think things through first. But yeah, we can keep grinning while we do it.

  23. Someone else already referenced it, but:

    now we just need to get CA governor out there to make the place breathable.

  24. #38 – Too true. I take a page from the series Starget SG-1. We claim to be a pretty advanced civilization, but in broader terms we are primitives. We can’t even get people of one area, creed, race, or anything else to agree on anything long enough to stop killing eachother. Why open up the option of that spilling onto another (possibly inhabited) planet? Please don’t let them find any oil. It’s taken this long and this kind of price increase to get all these other blithering idiots to realize maybe green fuels are a good idea after all.

  25. #29 Bugs: No…unfortunately. I get the feeling that you’re living in the future. I get the feeling that I’m pretty poor and that, therefore, the future is less accessible to me. I dread to think what this temporal lag feels like for the genuinely poverty-stricken.

    Who would’a thunk that the 4th dimension would get split along economic lines? Terrence Mckenna never saw that one coming. Novelty my arse…

  26. I get the feeling that I’m pretty poor and that, therefore, the future is less accessible to me. I dread to think what this temporal lag feels like for the genuinely poverty-stricken. Who would’a thunk that the 4th dimension would get split along economic lines?

    It’s called time-preference. Wealth disparity also follows the Law of Accelerating Returns (i.e. the Singularity); in other words, wealth helps you create more wealth faster.

    This is not a material problem in itself so long as individuals’ wealth is increasing in absolute terms, but it does seem to engender an established irrational bias of evolutionary psychology: inequity aversion

    (Which is why “liberal” opinion leaders spend a significant amount of time complaining about it. But don’t give in to envy, as long as people aren’t using their money to buy government favors to steal more money (i.e. wealth transfer) from other people — such as with subsidies and private laws. Of course, this kind of theft occurs all the time, i.e. corporatism.)

  27. #46: Um. I’d posit a much more simple term for it: inequality. Especially when you start talking about this phenomenon on a global scale.

    Time-preference is about a choice: happy now or happy later. A choice made as a consumer. A significant proportion of the world’s population doesn’t get to make that choice. And they live outside of consumer society – ie they don’t live in a post scarcity economy.

    Still: Water on Mars is fucking cool. Who mentioned the sterility the probe earlier? Cause that’s a fucking interesting question. Maybe we did a reverse Andromeda Strain?

  28. Eventhough they say that human possibly can live there, it still isn’t because there’s no such place like Earth

  29. “no such place like Earth” …in this solar system.

    Getting back to the Total Recall references, if there was a fuel source such as “tiberium” on Mars, developers would rapidly find a way to start mining there (ala Outland). But so far no one can imagine a viable return on investment for going there; just that it would be really really cool to have human colonies on Mars.

    p.s. Nobody lives in a post-scarcity economy, unless someone’s been holding out on a Star Trek replicator from everyone else.

  30. So, here’s a question someone with a better understanding of geo-science can ascertain: So if there is evidence of water on Mars, which could lead to evidence of life at some point, would there be evidence of Martian oil made by Martian bacteria beneath the ground?

    It doesn’t seem that far fetched to me, and perhaps it would be a cool science fiction premise to have oil from Mars pulled out and sent to earth… And to be used in cars and vehicles that then do some wacky stuff because it’s filled with alien oil?

    Think about it.

  31. Best 50th birthday present EVAR. (a href=””>For NASA, I mean.)

  32. I’m pretty sure that NASA takes every possible precaution to make sure their probes are sterile.

    No… don’t go there… just don’t.

  33. @38 and @43

    No, we aren’t living together sensibly – yet. Yes, we keep learning that we’ve got a depressingly long way to go on that front. But what space industry and exploration, and new power sources, could give is us time – the time to figure it out, before the ol’ homeworld runs out of everything useful and it’s back to the caves (at best) in the wreckage of a post-scarcity future.

    As humanity’s the only game in town as best we can tell, I’d say we’re a smidge more important to preserve than fossil bacteria.

  34. I think all the talk about humanity being primitive and should not explore space until we get our “stuff” together flies in the face of history. When Columbus and others explored the Americas, was Europe stable? When people journeyed out west were the original U.S. colonies stable? Heck, should a teen in a dysfunctional home stay at home until the family becomes stable? Heck no!

    I will say that anyone criticizing space exploration should compare it to the military budget. I don’t have facts and figures, but I’m quite sure it cost less to explore Mars than it did bombing the hell out of other countries for questionable reasons.

  35. #57: Yes that’s it! Testify! “Get our shit together” indeed…they just want more guns & bombs paid for by Uncle Sucker…without dreams that live while we are awake we are not really living the life we are designed by evolution to lead…it is part of our most basic human nature to explore…too bad so much “education” seems aimed at stopping or discouraging this.

  36. NASA do sterilise their probes. How disappointing.

    Though they didn’t always. And the Soviets probably never even thought of it: gung ho Russians.

    So there’s always a chance that we’ll have colonised Mars already. In a really microscopic way.


  37. #61: what did you want? The grand-wizard scientist sweeping down the crystal stairs to announce it in a voice that boomed around the world?

    Or another dry press conference on the news?

    It’s about making science more accessible, surely?

    And also a cool hint of a future where we drop AI drones onto a planet and they chat to us about what they’re finding via a mass communications medium…

  38. (So what about unearthly doubt?)

    The white shirts at NASA felt fine
    Finding ice in a Martian decline
    They were bursting with mirth
    Till they brought it to Earth:
    It wasn’t just ice, but Ice-9.

  39. Here’s a little something that might just change some outlooks.

    Consider: The elements on the periodic table are pretty much what we expect are the building blocks of the universe.

    Consider: On earth, there are a whole bunch of REALLY COMPLEX molecules made up of many elements.

    Why are we surprised that JUST TWO of them managed to combine on Mars?

  40. I like space exploration, but this line from “The High Frontier” always comes to mind:

    As Bruce Sterling has puts it: “I’ll believe in people settling Mars at about the same time I see people settling the Gobi Desert. The Gobi Desert is about a thousand times as hospitable as Mars and five hundred times cheaper and easier to reach.

    I would also not assume that the presence of a little bit of water means there is likely to be life. Earth life developed in a world covered with water, volcanoes, and a rich atmosphere. Unless Mars had much more water in the past than it does now, I wouldn’t bet much on it. But I’d love to see what a prediction market says..

  41. #66: I don’t know if anyone is that surprised that Mars has water on it. I think ‘surprised’ is the wrong word. It’s just that…because of that whole ‘scientific method’ thing that’s gotten us this far…we have to wait for results in order to make our assumptions anything other than that.

    This is a result.

    Cheers for patronising us all though.

  42. I like space exploration, but this line from “The High Frontier” always comes to mind.

    As in the book authored by Gerard K. O’Neill (of O’Neill cylinder fame)?

    Is the surface of a planet really the right place for expanding technological civilization?

    O’Neill: Well, the classical science fiction idea of colonization is always you go off and you find another planetary surface, like the moon or Mars. . . That misadventure we sidetracked very quickly because first of all there just isn’t that much area involved, and second, most of those other planetary surfaces are fairly unpleasant in terms of where they’re located. They’re the wrong distance from the sun, and they’ve got the wrong rotation times, and the wrong gravities usually. Besides all that, there was the fact that it didn’t make sense once you could get out into the space beyond a planet to give up the fulltime solar energy that you could get if you just stayed there.

    The sort of analogy that I like to use nowadays is to say that, ”Here we are at the bottom of a hole which is 4,000 miles deep. We’re a little bit like an animal who lives down at the bottom of a hole. And one day he climbs up to the top of the hole, and he gets out, and here’s all the green grass and the flowers and the sunshine coming down. And he goes around and it’s all very lovely, and then he finds another hole, and he crawls down to the bottom of that hole. And if we go off and try to get serious about colonizing other planetary surfaces, we’re really doing just that. It’s kind of atavistic but there really isn’t any other excuse for it.

  43. I suppose the big thing is seeing Mars and Luna as way-stations between here and all the useful metals and such in the asteroid belt. Having a good source of water ice makes it a lot more practical to travel out the long way. Ice + electricity = hydrogen + oxygen. AKA “rocket fuel”. Pulling it up a 1/6th G or 1/3rd G gravity well makes an awful lot more sense than dragging it all the way up from Earth.

    There’s also a psychological element, sad and silly as it is. The People (yes, that lot – the ones who open email attachments randomly from people they don’t know) are far more likely to back money for a flight to Mars than they are for an O’Neill cylinder at L-5. At the moment anyway.

    You work with what you’ve got…

  44. I hope this is the end of the $400 million ice-cube melters … and we’re moving onward to something with verve and imagination that maximizes scientific return on investment. Like, say, a bevy of semi-autonomous lightly instrumented solar-powered mini-balloons with no moving parts, drifting not creeping from location to location, built to last for a decade. We could warn them to hide in burrows when windstorms threaten.

  45. Welp, if there’s not life found on Mars, then let’s transplant some extremophiles from Earth to Mars and see what mutates.

  46. FTW = For The Win, #51/61..

    So now that we’ve discovered water on Mars, we can all shout a hearty whoop-de-frackin-doo and wave adios to those trillions of dollars in manhours, and thousands of gallons of fuel we spent to answer a simple question. Worth it? That would be a big neon erratically flashing NO.

    Insert reference to the elusively titled Asimov short, where the Martians inhibit man’s rocket development fearing an invasion, only for them to develop warp/teleport technology instead.

  47. Waste of money? You forget about the law of conservation of cash, my friend: that cash wasn’t shipped to Mars – it was distributed in our economy to people with jobs.

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