Planetary Scientists Hunt
Around Cosmos For Water
From Stig Agermose
By John Yaukey - Gannett News Service
WASHINGTON -- Ice crystals strewn across the Moon's poles. Valleys on Mars where rivers once flowed. The possibility that Jupiter's moon Europa conceals a slushy subterranean sea.
Water has become an obsession among planetary scientists and astronomers now designing an armada of space probes to look for it or its mineral remains.
"It's absolutely central to everything we're doing," said Steven Squyres, a Cornell University astronomer and the principal designer of NASA's Athena Mars rover, scheduled for launch in 2001. "The likelihood that water might have existed in a particular location has a direct effect on our consideration of possible landing sites."
The prevalence of water in the solar system sets the stage for debate about life on other worlds and discussion of where humans might eventually travel.
The principal value of water is its central role in creating life, at least as scientists now understand it. Liquid water, as opposed to ice, is considered necessary to allow elements to mix and eventually assemble into complex organics and possibly life. Scientists have no theories to explain the formation of life without liquid water. There is, however, some speculation about complex organics forming in other fluids such as liquid methane.
Water also speaks to climate. That water once may have flowed on Mars has led scientists to conclude that it was once a much warmer, wetter place than today, with its surface temperature of 100 degrees below zero.
Water in space also would be extremely valuable for planetary wayfarers. The hydrogen in ice could be used to make hydrogen fuel for deep space travel, while the oxygen could provide air on colonies.
"Our entire strategy for the study of Mars is focused on three elements: Life, climate change and exploitable resources," said Carl Pilcher, acting director for solar system exploration at NASA. "And they all have one common element: water."

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