Phoenix Mars Lander Will Sprinkle Martian Soil for Microscope to View

Jun 10, 2008
Phoenix Mars Lander Will Sprinkle Martian Soil for Microscope to View
NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander used its Robotic Arm during the mission's 15th Martian day since landing (June 9, 2008) to test a "sprinkle" method for delivering small samples of soil to instruments on the lander deck. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Texas A&M

The team operating NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander plans to instruct the spacecraft in the next few days to use its Robotic Arm to sprinkle a spoonful of Martian soil onto a wheel that will rotate the sample into place for viewing by the spacecraft's Optical Microscope.

Meanwhile, commands for Phoenix's activities today are to continue a set of atmosphere observations begun during the Martian evening earlier Tuesday in coordination with overhead passes of NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. These take advantage of opportunities for instruments on Phoenix and on the orbiter to examine the same column of atmosphere simultaneously from above and below.

"It allows us to put the Phoenix measurements into global perspective and gives a ground level calibration for the orbiter's measurements," said Phoenix Project Scientist Leslie Tamppari of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

On Monday, Phoenix tested delivering Martian soil by sprinkling it rather than dumping it. The positive result prompted researchers not only to proceed with plans for delivery to the microscope, but also to plan on sprinkling a sample in the near future into one of the eight ovens of an instrument that bakes and sniffs samples, the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer, or TEGA.

A sample of clumpy soil dumped onto one TEGA oven on June 6 has yielded only a few particles passing through a mesh screen over the opening to the oven, even after additional vibration of the screen on Monday.

The sprinkling method developed a few months ago by members of Phoenix's arm and microscope teams uses vibration of the tilted scoop by a motorized rasp to gently jostle some material out, instead of turning the scoop over to empty it. The rasp is located on the back of the scoop and will be used later in the mission to scrape up samples of subsurface ice.

The first test of the sprinkling method Monday produced a layer of fine particles extending from a pile of about a tablespoon of soil. The practice placed the material on the top surface of the instrument suite that includes the microscope, the Microscopy, Electrochemistry and Conductivity Analyzer, or MECA.

"This is good news," said Ray Arvidson of Washington University in St. Louis, lead scientist for the Robotic Arm. He said that the clumping tendency of Martian soil at the Phoenix site and some earlier landing sites comes from extremely fine particles filling in gaps between coarser, sand-size particles, perhaps together with an ingredient acting to cement particles together. Future soil samples may be prepared prior to delivery by chopping and scraping them with blades on the scoop.

Source: NASA

Explore further: Bright points in Sun's atmosphere mark patterns deep in its interior

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Engineers building hard-working mining robot

Jan 29, 2013

(Phys.org)—After decades of designing and operating robots full of scientific gear to study other worlds, NASA is working on a prototype that leaves the delicate instruments at home in exchange for a sturdy ...

Curiosity rover: No big surprise in first soil test

Dec 03, 2012

(Phys.org)—NASA's Mars Curiosity rover has used its full array of instruments to analyze Martian soil for the first time, and found a complex chemistry within the Martian soil. Water and sulfur and chlorine-containing ...

NASA rover lands on Mars (Update 4)

Aug 06, 2012

NASA has successfully landed its $2.5 billion Mars Science Laboratory and Curiosity rover on the surface of the Red Planet, breaking new ground in US-led exploration of an alien world.

NASA braces for 'terror' in Mars landing

Aug 02, 2012

The biggest, baddest space rover ever built for exploring an alien planet is nearing its August 6 landing on Mars, and the US space agency is anxious for success despite huge risks.

New views show old NASA Mars landers

Feb 09, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter recorded a scene on Jan. 29, 2012, that includes the first color image from orbit showing ...

Recommended for you

Astronauts to reveal sobering data on asteroid impacts

18 hours ago

This Earth Day, Tuesday, April 22, three former NASA astronauts will present new evidence that our planet has experienced many more large-scale asteroid impacts over the past decade than previously thought… ...

Rosetta instrument commissioning continues

19 hours ago

We're now in week four of six dedicated to commissioning Rosetta's science instruments after the long hibernation period, with the majority now having completed at least a first initial switch on.

Astronaut salary

19 hours ago

Talk about a high-flying career! Being a government astronaut means you have the chance to go into space and take part in some neat projects—such as going on spacewalks, moving robotic arms and doing science ...

Red moon at night; stargazer's delight

Apr 16, 2014

Monday night's lunar eclipse proved just as delightful as expected to those able to view it. On the East Coast, cloudy skies may have gotten in the way, but at the National Science Foundation's National Optical ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Cosmologists weigh cosmic filaments and voids

(Phys.org) —Cosmologists have established that much of the stuff of the universe is made of dark matter, a mysterious, invisible substance that can't be directly detected but which exerts a gravitational ...

Hubble image: A cross-section of the universe

An image of a galaxy cluster taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope gives a remarkable cross-section of the Universe, showing objects at different distances and stages in cosmic history. They range ...

Scientists tether lionfish to Cayman reefs

Research done by U.S. scientists in the Cayman Islands suggests that native predators can be trained to gobble up invasive lionfish that colonize regional reefs and voraciously prey on juvenile marine creatures.

Leeches help save woman's ear after pit bull mauling

(HealthDay)—A pit bull attack in July 2013 left a 19-year-old woman with her left ear ripped from her head, leaving an open wound. After preserving the ear, the surgical team started with a reconnection ...