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    MOSCOW, JANUARY 26, RIA NOVOSTI - The HAND, a gauge of Russian design and manufacture at the USA's Mars Odysseus station, discovered water ice on Mars back in March 2002, expert Igor Mitrofanov said to Novosti. Laboratory head at the Space Research Institute under the Russian Academy of Sciences, he led HAND design and a related experiment.

    Neutron flows from Mars have been mapped by now. The available global maps have a resolving power of 200 to 300 kilometres. Neutron flows allow to spot water at great distance, explained our informant.

    Ice accounts for 40 per cent to a half of the entire soil in two vast Martian polar areas. Permafrost areas are close on a hundred-fold larger than the area of Martian polar caprock. Ice has been detected close to the surface in the north polar area. In the south permafrost area a layer containing a large amount of ice is under a dry soil layer 20 to 30 centimetres thick, says Mr. Mitrofanov.

    Of the greatest scholarly interest are two antipodal areas on the Martian equator, in which water accounts for more than 10 per cent of soil. It is hard to explain this high humidity for now. Either Martian climate is rapidly warming, and ice formed billions of years ago has only started melting, or water molecules are chemical part of minerals which previously emerged among free water.

    Landing areas for the US Martian vehicles "Spirit" and "Opportunity" had been appointed very aptly - even though that was done long before researchers obtained results of neutron soil studies from orbital stations, remarked our interviewee.

    As Martian surface studies show, the Gusev Crater, where the "Spirit" landed, had been a lake. Meridian Bay, point of "Opportunity" landing, appears a former sea bottom, as far as we can judge by orbital spectrum studies, says Igor Mitrofanov.

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