Mid-Depth Soil Collected for Lab Test On NASA's Mars Lander

August 22, 2008
Soil from a sample called Burning Coals was delivered through the doors of cell number seven (left) of the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Max Planck Institute

NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander has scooped up a soil sample from an intermediate depth between the ground surface and a subsurface icy layer. The sample was delivered to a laboratory oven on the spacecraft.

The robotic arm on Phoenix collected the sample, dubbed "Burning Coals," from a trench named "Burn Alive 3." The sample consisted of about one-fourth to one-half teaspoon of loose soil scooped from depth about 3 centimeters (1.2 inch) below the surface of the ground and about 1 centimeter (0.4 inch) above a hard, icy underground layer.

Data received from Phoenix early Thursday confirmed that the arm had delivered some of that sample through the doors of cell 7 on the lander's Thermal and Evolved Gas Analyzer (TEGA) and that enough material passed through a screen and down a funnel to nearly fill the cell's tiny oven. The Phoenix team prepared commands Thursday to have TEGA close the oven and begin heating the sample to low temperature (35 degrees Celsius, or 95 degrees Fahrenheit).

The purpose of the low temperature heating is to look for ice in the sample. The next step is a middle temperature process, which heats the sample to 125 degrees Celsius (257 degrees Fahrenheit) to thoroughly dry the sample. The last heating takes the sample to 1000 degrees Celsius (1832 degrees Fahrenheit). The gases given off during these heating stages help the science team to determine properties of the Martian soil.

"We are expecting the sample to look similar to previous samples," said William Boynton of the University of Arizona, lead scientist for TEGA. "One of the things we'll be looking for is an oxygen release indicative of perchlorate."

Perchlorate was found in a sample delivered to Phoenix's Microscopy, Electrochemistry, and Conductivity Analyzer (MECA). The MECA team saw the perchlorate signal in a sample taken from a trench called "Dodo-Goldilocks" on June 25, and again in another sample taken from the "Rosy Red" trench on July 6. To see signs of perchlorate in TEGA would help confirm the previous results. Scientists are analyzing data from a Rosy Red surface sample heated in TEGA cell number 5 last week.

The new sample in cell 7 completes a three-level soil profile that also includes the surface material (from Rosy Red) and ice-layer material (from a trench called "Snow White").

"We want to know the structure and composition of the soil at the surface, at the ice and in-between to help answer questions about the movement of water -- either as vapor or liquid -- between the icy layer and the surface," said Ray Arvidson of Washington University in St. Louis, a leader of Phoenix science team activities.

Source: NASA

Explore further: Novel scalable software helps in silico discovery of materials for energy

Related Stories

Green barriers of cypresses could reduce fire initiation risk

September 22, 2015

Every year fires burn thousands of hectares, destroy entire ecosystems and put the lives of people and animals at risk. Understanding the dynamics of fire would allow a solution to be found for the high number of incidents. ...

A happier environment for fish

September 15, 2015

Just below the sun-warmed surface of a dam, the water temperature can be breath-catchingly cold. So imagine how chilly the water gets when you descend another 20, 30 or even 50 metres to the dam bed.

Explainer: What is a neutron star?

September 1, 2015

Neutron stars are arguably the most exotic objects in the universe. Like one of those annoying friends who seemingly must overachieve in every aspect of life, neutron stars exceed in almost every category: surface gravity; ...

VIMS reports intense and widespread algal blooms

September 1, 2015

Water sampling and aerial photography by researchers at William & Mary's Virginia Institute of Marine Science show that the algal blooms currently coloring lower Chesapeake Bay are among the most intense and widespread of ...

Recommended for you

A mission to a metal world—The Psyche mission

October 9, 2015

In their drive to set exploration goals for the future, NASA's Discovery Program put out the call for proposals for their thirteenth Discovery mission in February 2014. After reviewing the 27 initial proposals, a panel of ...

What are white holes?

October 9, 2015

Black holes are created when stars die catastrophically in a supernova. So what in the universe is a white hole?

Image: Pluto's blue sky

October 9, 2015

Pluto's haze layer shows its blue color in this picture taken by the New Horizons Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC). The high-altitude haze is thought to be similar in nature to that seen at Saturn's moon ...

How to prepare for Mars? NASA consults Navy sub force

October 5, 2015

As NASA contemplates a manned voyage to Mars and the effects missions deeper into space could have on astronauts, it's tapping research from another outfit with experience sending people to the deep: the U.S. Navy submarine ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.