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Phoenix Digs on Mars

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posted on Jun, 5 2008 @ 06:30 AM
Mission Overview

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.

This map centered on the north pole of Mars is based on gamma rays from the element hydrogen -- mainly in the form of water ice. Regions of high ice content are shown in violet and blue and those low in ice content are shown in red. The very ice-rich region at the north pole is due to a permanent polar cap of water ice on the surface. Elsewhere in this region, the ice is buried under several to a few tens of centimeters of dry soil.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL/UA

The complement of the Phoenix spacecraft and its scientific instruments are ideally suited to uncover clues to the geologic history and biological potential of the Martian arctic. Phoenix will be the first mission to return data from either polar region providing an important contribution to the overall Mars science strategy "Follow the Water" and will be instrumental in achieving the four science goals of NASA's long-term Mars Exploration Program.

  • Determine whether Life ever arose on Mars

  • Characterize the Climate of Mars

  • Characterize the Geology of Mars

  • Prepare for Human Exploration

The Phoenix Mission has two bold objectives to support these goals, which are to
(1) study the history of water in the Martian arctic and
(2) search for evidence of a habitable zone and assess the biological potential of the ice-soil boundary.

Phoenix Digs Its First Scoop
Camera spots possible ice in the sample

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Texas A&M University
This color image, acquired by NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander's Surface Stereo Imager on Sol 7, the seventh day of the mission (June 1, 2008), shows the so-called "Knave of Hearts" first-dig test area to the north of the lander. The Robotic Arm's scraping blade left a small horizontal depression above where the sample was taken.

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.

We see this nice streak of white material. We don't know what this material is yet
, 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.

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.

We're ready to go. We're pretty excited to get on with business here
, said Ray Arvidson from the Washington University

Second Dig and Dump Test

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

Full res image:

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.

Scientific Measurements

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.

The following table shows the relationships between Phoenix's science objectives, the scientific measurements to be made, and the instruments that will make these measurements:

SSI = Surface Stereo Imager
RAC = Robotic Arm Camera
MARDI = Mars Descent Imager
TEGA = Thermal and Evolved Gas Analyzer
MECA = Microscopy, Electrochemistry, and Conductivity Analyzer
WC = Wet Chemistry Experiment
M = Microscopy, including the Optical Microscope and the Atomic Force Microscope
TECP = Thermal and Electrical Conductivity Probe
MET = Meteorological Station

The Phoenix Robotic Arm, during testing at JPL.
Engineers Bob Bonitz and Matt Robinson are shown in the background, in protective suits.

Image credit: NASA/JPL/UA/Lockheed Martin

Trench Visualization

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Texas A&M University/NASA Ames

Full res image:

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).

Phoenix Lander Work Area

Image Credit: NASA Ames

Full res image:

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.

Map of Phoenix Digging Area

Image Credit: NASA Ames

Full res image:

This image shows where NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander's Robotic Arm scoop has started digging, and the next areas planned for digging. The majority of the area to the right of the current trench is being preserved for future digging.

posted on Jun, 5 2008 @ 07:20 AM
Flagged & starred! thanks for a great, informative post!

Looks like "ice, ice, bay-bee" to me!! What do you think?

[edit on 5-6-2008 by ezziboo]

posted on Jun, 5 2008 @ 07:42 AM
During the dig the scoop left a flat compact wall on the back side going into the Martian soil. The wall of soil did not collapse like sand would have unless there was moisture in the sand or soil to keep it tight and together. It looks as though the back hoe hit pay dirt when it comes to scooping up ice if that is what we are seeing in the photo presented.

The rock to the far left looks as though it has been moved or has moved itself and you can see it's trail it has left behind. The possibility of moisture run off from ice on the rock may also be the reason for the trail impression made. The scoop looks visually flimsy to me the way it has been constructed and as long as it works and does the job intended, great. Rik Riley

[edit on 5-6-2008 by rikriley]

posted on Jun, 5 2008 @ 08:21 AM
Great information Internos, I love this stuff, keep it coming. Although some people may say it is a waste of money to be "playing around in the dirt" over on Mars, I believe it is the next big step in space exploration on our part.

I'm just waiting to see the alien sand crab climb out of the dirt and wave to the camera

posted on Jun, 5 2008 @ 12:28 PM
Great work internos, looking at the Phoenix landers first scoop of the Martian surface along with what looks to be ice the camera has photographed on the bottom right approx. 1 inch from the scoop wall what appears to be a fossil with tiny bones similarly aligned like a fish with rounded head and two eyes. This could be a fossil of a centipede or worm looking creature I do not know. This particular anomaly has bones like a flexible metal watch band close together like fish bones but the bones being thicker and wider.

Below the fish or worm looking skeletal bones and head is a another symmetrical shaped rounded head with two eyes and nose. I did not see these anomalies at first because the blending of the reddish soil with the anomalies photographed by the Lander. Do not get too impatient it will take a minute or two to focus and lock your eyes onto these anomalies and either enlarge the photo or use a magnifying glass to see these things better.
Rik Riley

[edit on 5-6-2008 by rikriley]

posted on Jun, 5 2008 @ 01:04 PM
Wow Internos !

Thats one of the coolest space exploration threads I have ever read.

It was clear and well structured, concise and yet packed full with info thats going to keep me beavering away on the web thats for sure.

Water ice at the poles and not the supposed CO2 ice as per thoughts of yester year ? now that is interesting and a great asset to any future manned exploration and colonization

posted on Jun, 5 2008 @ 06:17 PM
reply to post by internos
Great post Internos , concise, informative and well put together, giving us a clear picture of what the mission is and how the mechanism functions, displaying it's role in this type of exploration for this planet [Mars] you got my star & flag

posted on Jun, 6 2008 @ 02:28 AM
What a great collection of reading material! Thank you for compiling this for us. Very interesting stuff.

posted on Jun, 6 2008 @ 02:44 AM
Thanks for another interesting and very informative read, Internos!

I haven't seen anyone else comment on this, and it may be a really stupid question, but I take the risk of looking like an ignorant fool:

Why does the shadowed area in one of the images look like this?

I guess it has something to do with color filters, but it seems like the colors aren't overlapping each other completely. Doesn't that mean that the image actually is blurred, and not as sharp as it should be?

[edit on 6-6-2008 by ziggystar60]

posted on Jun, 6 2008 @ 03:05 AM
What a fantastic thread
! This is something i had no idea how it worked etc...Great images, this is so fasanating !!!

Thanks for the great thread Internos...

Big Star and a Flag!

posted on Jun, 6 2008 @ 03:38 AM
reply to post by ziggystar60

Top notch break down of whats happening on Mars.

Well Done.

To the person with the pic. Im not sure why. I belive its a common thing though. It might be a sideeffect of them adding color to the pic.

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....

posted on Jun, 6 2008 @ 04:07 AM

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....

Hi TKainZero, and thank you for your post

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.

posted on Jun, 6 2008 @ 04:30 AM
The only question that I have now is how long will it be before we know anything about what was found in the soil sample?


posted on Jun, 6 2008 @ 05:14 AM
reply to post by TheBorg

Thank you for your post, TheBorg

I frankly have no idea what are all the processes involved: the collection of data is relatively fast, but i don't know how the data will be processed and when data will be converted in "readable" values: it's a very technical question to which i am frankly unable to answer.

Highest Resolution Image of Dust and Sand Yet Acquired on Mars
Silicon sample

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.

To the left a B&W image acquired during the flight, to the right, one acquired after the landing: the new particles have been deposited during the landing; they are samples from martian surface, but they have been exposed to the lander itselfs so a contamination is very likely. But this may work as valuable test for Microscopy, Electrochemistry and Conductivity Analyzer (MECA) instrument suite.

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.

Now, once we will know the results of the "further investigations", we may have an idea about how long it does take a standard study, i mean an assessment on the nature of the particles: that could be a good temporal point of reference, but, as said, it's hard to know the details unless one is personally involved in the project.

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.

The audio will be available here.

[edit on 6/6/2008 by internos]

posted on Jun, 6 2008 @ 06:14 AM
Cool thread.
But all of the stated missions goals for Phoenix have already been conclusively evidenced elsewhere directly and indirectly.
So what is this mission really all about?

For previous conclusions accepted by science community, look no further . . .
And remember, this info is old and not even controversial, so....?

posted on Jun, 6 2008 @ 06:28 AM

Originally posted by djerwulfe

For previous conclusions accepted by science community, look no further . . .

I can't find the article you're talking about - which heading is it under?

I'm under the perception that these missions are here because people are trying to discover whether or not it will be nessecary to land near the poles so we can secure chemical resources critical to our survival (oxygen, hydrogen, and the combination of the two).

By seeing whether or not there are other locations with H2O in the vicinity, we no longer have to worry about making massive pipe-systems in order to get oxygen from one part of the plane to the other, thereby going around a remarkably huge part of the problem.

I'd love to know whether or not this reasoning is discussed, even if it is on wikipedia.

posted on Jun, 6 2008 @ 06:57 AM
reply to post by internos

Thanks for the info internos...

You are doing a good job on this...

I cant wait for the results...

posted on Jun, 6 2008 @ 07:16 AM
reply to post by djerwulfe

well let me try to think what phoenix is all about (pardon my skepticism and sarcasm - advance warning)...based on the following wild and outlandish thoughts I cannot get rid of, prove, or defend:
nasa is just the ridiculous pr front for Mil-Ind complex
the mil-ind complex is the tool of "elites", such as mj-12
mars already has life ranging from the bacterial all the way thru to civilization
"elites" work and have agreements with many ET races, and have secret developing technologies for space and time travel based on quantum and hyperdimensional physics, and are not any smarter or better than the rest of us, they're just the ones in bat right now, your turn as royalty you actually start to think you are royalty and superior. funny.
2 trillion missing from budget (rumsfield, sep 10 2000)
Common humanity/sheeple, having only recently moved from the horse and carriage level and acceptance the planet is round, is being steered into a developmental process of greater awareness by helpful elements; and being prodded into self-destruction by the harmful elements.
oooh phoenix what incredible science, what will we find in the soil ooooh the excitement!!!! is that that a.....microbe????????

posted on Jun, 6 2008 @ 07:24 AM

Originally posted by bakedbean

oooh phoenix what incredible science, what will we find in the soil ooooh the excitement!!!! is that that a.....microbe????????

I'll admit it does seem likely that if we are being manuevoured this is going to happen.

However, from the perspective of a race that isn't being manuevoured it still looks like we're finally going places, having finished our 30 year hiatus starting from the 80's.

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]

posted on Jun, 6 2008 @ 09:52 AM

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]

I would be afraid that the cost of transporting the oil would be in the millions or billions to pay for the resources and equipment to get there( collect it with no atmosphere to breathe - more needed equipment that we dont use on earth) and transport it back to us, and we would then have to pay 220$ a gallon.. I dont see that being very likely.

edited as I had a visual of a oil tanker trying ot make it thru reentry and breaking apart in our atmosphere with all the oil raining down more widespread then when spilt from a ocean tanker...

[edit on 6-6-2008 by mindping]

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