Nasa has successfully launched a probe on a nine month mission to Mars to help establish if there is, or ever was, life on the red planet. The Phoenix craft will analyse soil for the presence of water and chemicals needed to sustain life. Previous Mars probes have found water, but did not have the tools for in-depth analysis. Instead of roaming the planet’s surface, Phoenix will target the frozen northern polar region. The lander has several instruments for soil, including eight tiny ovens. Gas sensors will sniff the vapours of the heated dirt to determine what chemicals are present.