European orbiter detects presence of water on planet's surface

DARMSTADT, Germany (AP) -- Europe's Mars orbiter has confirmed the presence of water in the form of ice on the Red Planet's surface for the first time, the European Space Agency said.
Mars Express, circling high above the surface, made the discovery on the Red Planet's south pole, said agency scientist Jean-Pierre Bibring today -- an indication that Mars may once have sustained life.
"We have been tracking it on the south pole, and there we have detected water, probably for the first time," Bibring told a news conference at mission control in Darmstadt.
More than 40 years of Mars exploration has yielded inconclusive evidence of whether water was present on the planet.
Two U.S. orbiters, Mars Global Surveyor and the 2001 Mars Odyssey, have also been circling the planet searching for indications of water in the Martian past.
In October, a team of scientists reported Odyssey had detected on the surface of Mars copious amounts of a mineral that's easily weathered away in the presence of water. That suggested Mars has been a dry wasteland.
Weeks later, a second team reported evidence to the contrary after Global Surveyor beamed back images that show features apparently created by the meandering flow of rivers.
The European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter is part of Europe's first mission to Mars.