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Mars is a cold desert planet with no liquid water on its surface. But in the Martian arctic, water ice lurks just below ground level. Discoveries made by the Mars Odyssey Orbiter in 2002 show large amounts of subsurface water ice in the northern arctic plain. The Phoenix lander targets this circumpolar region using a robotic arm to dig through the protective top soil layer to the water ice below and ultimately, to bring both soil and water ice to the lander platform for sophisticated scientific analysis.
Phoenix Mars Lander, designed to carry NASA's 420 million US dollar three month mission to the Red Planet, which touched down on the surface just a little over a week ago, made its first dig test in the Martian soil on Sunday with the 2.4 meter long robotic arm, revealing bright white bits of material that could be either water ice or salt.
, said Pat Woida, senior engineer at the University of Arizona at Tucson. The chemical composition analysis of the material will reveal in the future weeks if it is indeed water ice, but until then the lander needs to finish preparations.
We see this nice streak of white material. We don't know what this material is yet
Similar bright white material has been spotted by the camera on board the robotic arm while viewing the soil under the spacecraft, which was probably uncovered by Phoenix's thrusters during the landing sequence. The mission of the newly landed robotic spacecraft is to establish whether or not water is present in the respective region, and if the clime of Mars was ever able to support life.
The problem experienced with the heating element of the gas analyzer in the outcome of the short circuit last week has been solved during the weekend, while mission controllers continued the experiments regarding the digging techniques they would use during the mission. The next step is to identify a good digging site in the vicinity of the lander, by executing three side by side digs.
Material scooped up the Phoenix's robotic arm will be delivered to the gas analyzers which will heat it up hoping to identify possible organic compounds. Later in the mission, Phoenix is scheduled to examine some of the samples under a microscope and inside a wet chemistry laboratory.
, said Ray Arvidson from the Washington University
We're ready to go. We're pretty excited to get on with business here
The Robotic Arm took a second scoop full of soil and revealed whitish material at the bottom of the dig area informally called the "Knave of Hearts". The Science Team is debating whether this is a salt layer or the top of an ice table. Image was taken by the Surface Stereo Imager on the ninth day of the Mars mission, or Sol 9, (June 3, 2008) aboard the NASA Phoenix Mars Lander.
Phoenix's Robotic Arm (RA) is the single most crucial element to making scientific measurements. The robotic arm combines strength and finesse to dig trenches, scrape water ice, and precisely deliver samples to other instruments on the science deck. Also, the robotic arm carries a camera and thermal-electric probe to make measurements directly in the trench.
This image shows oblique views of NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander's trench visualized using the NASA Ames Viz software package that allows interactive movement around terrain and measurement of features. The Surface Stereo Imager images are used to create a digital elevation model of the terrain. The trench is 1.5 inches deep. The top image was taken on the seventh Martian day of the mission, or Sol 7 (June 1, 2008). The bottom image was taken on the ninth Martian day of the mission, or Sol 9 (June 3, 2008).
This image shows NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander Robotic Arm work area with an overlay. The pink area is available for digging, the green area is reserved for placing the Thermal and Electrical Conductivity Probe (TECP) instrument. Soil can be dumped in the violet area.Images were displayed using NASA Ames "Viz" visualization software.
Originally posted by TKainZero
Also, a question. How is the thing going to scoop up ice? I mean, it should all be fronzen toghether right, it that plastic cup supposed to break a chunk of ice off? Or are they hoping that they just find a pieice that will fit in the Plastic shovel....
The RA will be 2.35 meters (just under 8 ft) long with an elbow joint in the middle, allowing the arm to trench about 0.5m (1.6ft) below the martian surface, deep enough to where scientists believe the water-ice soil interface lies. At the end of the RA is a moveable scoop, which includes ripper tines (sharp prongs) and serrated blades. Once icy soil is encountered, the ripper tines will be used to first tear the exposed materials, followed by applying the serrated blades to scrape the fractured soil. The scoop will then be run through the furrows to capture the fragmented samples, ensuring enough sample mass for scientific study on the lander platform.
A similar RA developed for the Mars Polar Lander was tested at Death Valley in 2000 and successfully dug a 10 inch trench in just under 4 hours. The extremely hard soil conditions at Death Valley are similar to those expected at Phoenix's martian arctic landing site.
This image shows a 3 millimeter (0.12 inch) diameter silicone target after it has been exposed to dust kicked up by the landing. It is the highest resolution image of dust and sand ever acquired on Mars.
The particles are on a silcone substrate target 3 millimeters (0.12 inch) in diameter, which provides a sticky surface for holding the particles while the microscope images them. Blow-ups of four of the larger particles are shown in the center. These particles range in size from about 30 microns to 150 microns (from about one one-thousandth of an inch to six one-thousandths of an inch).
The color composite on the right was acquired by the Optical Microscope, a part of the Microscopy, Electrochemistry, and Conductivity Analyzer (MECA) instrument suite on NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander. The image was taken on the ninth Martian day of the mission, or Sol 9 (June 3, 2008) to examine dust that had fallen onto an exposed surface. The translucent particle highlighted at bottom center is of comparable size to white particles in a Martian soil sample (upper pictures) seen two sols earlier inside the scoop of Phoenix's Robotic Arm as imaged by the lander's Robotic Arm Camera. The white particles may be examples of the abundant salts that have been found in the Martian soil by previous missions. Further investigations will be needed to determine the white material's composition and whether translucent particles like the one in this microscopic image are found in Martian soil samples.
NASA News Audio Live Streaming COMING UP:
2 p.m. EDT, Friday, June 6
NASA and the University of Arizona, Tucson, will hold a media teleconference to report on the latest news from NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander mission.
Briefing participants include Peter Smith, principal investigator, University of Arizona; and other mission team members.
Originally posted by djerwulfe
For previous conclusions accepted by science community, look no further . . .
Originally posted by bakedbean
oooh phoenix what incredible science, what will we find in the soil ooooh the excitement!!!! is that a...is that a.....microbe????????
Originally posted by Anti-Tyrant
What happens if we find oil, or some other combustible material that will serve as fuel?
Imagine it - vast quantities of untouched fuel, in underground fields the size of seas...
That'd be enough to get the space race up and running again, i guarentee it.
[edit on 6-6-2008 by Anti-Tyrant]