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Europe probe detects Mars water ice

An artist's rendering shows Express mounted on its launcher.
An artist's rendering shows Express mounted on its launcher.

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(CNN) -- The European orbiter Mars Express detected ice at the Red Planet's south pole, mission officials at Darmstadt, Germany, said Friday.

NASA's Mars Odyssey, also an orbiter, confirmed water ice at the north pole, along with dry ice -- frozen carbon dioxide -- in 2002. It picked up signs of hydrogen at the south pole, the first indication that water ice might be found there.

Mars Express confirmed Odyssey's suspicions about the south pole.

"We have already identified water vapor in the atmosphere," scientist Vittorio Formisano said. "We have identified water ice on the soil on the south polar caps."

Mars Express headed off for the fourth planet on June 2 specifically to look for water. It carried with it the European Space Agency's rover, Beagle 2, but that craft was never heard from after its expected Dec. 25 landing.

Express, however, attained its final operational orbit in the last week and has continued its scientific mission. Express made an unsuccessful attempt to contact Beagle 2 earlier this month when it passed near the rover's landing site.

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