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Last Updated: Friday August 01 2008 06:13 GMT

First taste of water on Mars

An artist's impression of the Phoenix probe on Mars

Hopes of proving life on Mars have been given a boost by the first direct discovery of water on the planet.

The Phoenix Mars Lander, which has been exploring the planet's surface since June, has found water-ice in the soil.

Scientists are testing the ice to see if conditions on the Red Planet ever have, or still do, support life there.

Evidence of water-ice has been found before, but researcher William Boynton said: "This is the first time Martian water has been touched and tasted."

Latest photo of Mars
Scientists are melting the ice to see what it's made up of, but said results of their tests would take three or four weeks to analyse.

The Phoenix spacecraft has been studying the surface of Mars since it landed there on 25 June.

The mission has been such a success so far, scientists have extended it until the end of September.

It means Nasa will be able to dig two new trenches between mounds where ice lasts much longer, giving it different characteristics.