Phoenix Mars Lander Inspects Delivered Soil Samples

Jun 14, 2008
Phoenix Mars Lander Inspects Delivered Soil Samples
This pair of images taken by the Optical Microscope on NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander offers a side-by-side comparison of an airfall dust sample collected on a substrate exposed during landing (left) and a soil sample scooped up from the surface of the ground beside the lander. In both cases the sample is collected on a silicone substrate, which provides a sticky surface holding sample particles for observation by the microscope. Similar fine particles at the resolution limit of the microscope are seen in both samples, indicating that the soil has formed from settling of dust. The microscope took the image on the left during Phoenix's Sol 9 (June 3, 2008), or the ninth Martian day after landing. It took the image on the right during Sol 17 (June 11, 2008). The scale bar is 1 millimeter (0.04 inch). The Phoenix Mission is led by the University of Arizona, Tucson, on behalf of NASA. Project management of the mission is by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. Spacecraft development is by Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver. Image NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

New observations from NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander provide the most magnified view ever seen of Martian sol, showing particles clumping together even at the smallest visible scale.

In the past two days, two instruments on the lander deck -- a microscope and a bake-and-sniff analyzer -- have begun inspecting soil samples delivered by the scoop on Phoenix's Robotic Arm.

"This is the first time since the Viking missions three decades ago that a sample is being studied inside an instrument on Mars," said Phoenix Principal Investigator Peter Smith of the University of Arizona, Tucson.

Stickiness of the soil at the Phoenix site has presented challenges for delivering samples, but also presents scientific opportunities. "Understanding the soil is a major goal of this mission and the soil is a bit different than we expected," Smith said. "There could be real discoveries to come as we analyze this soil with our various instruments. We have just the right instruments for the job."

Images from Phoenix's Optical Microscope show nearly 1,000 separate soil particles, down to sizes smaller than one-tenth the diameter of a human hair. At least four distinct minerals are seen.

"It's been more than 11 years since we had the idea to send a microscope to Mars and I'm absolutely gobsmacked that we're now looking at the soil of Mars at a resolution that has never been seen before," said Tom Pike of Imperial College London. He is a Phoenix co-investigator working on the lander's Microscopy, Electrochemistry and Conductivity Analyzer.

The sample includes some larger, black, glassy particles as well as smaller reddish ones. "We may be looking at a history of the soil," said Pike. "It appears that original particles of volcanic glass have weathered down to smaller particles with higher concentration of iron."

The fine particles in the soil sample closely resemble particles of airborne dust examined earlier by the microscope.

Atmospheric dust at the Phoenix site has remained about the same day-to-day so far, said Phoenix co-investigator and atmospheric scientist Nilton Renno of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

"We've seen no major dust clouds at the landing site during the mission so far," Renno said. "That's not a surprise because we landed when dust activity is at a minimum. But we expect to see big dust storms at the end of the mission. Some of us will be very excited to see some of those dust storms reach the lander."

Studying dust on Mars helps scientists understand atmospheric dust on Earth, which is important because dust is a significant factor in global climate change.

"We've learned there is well-mixed dust in the Martian atmosphere, much more mixed than on Earth, and that's a surprise," Renno said. Rather than particles settling into dust layers, strong turbulence mixes them uniformly from the surface to a few kilometers above the surface.

Scientists spoke at a news briefing today at the University of Arizona, where new color views of the spacecraft's surroundings were shown.

"We are taking a high-quality, 360-degree look at all of Mars that we can see from our landing site in color and stereo," said Mark Lemmon, Surface Stereo Imager lead from Texas A&M University, College Station.

"These images are important to provide the context of where the lander is on the surface. The panorama also allows us to look beyond our workspace to see how the polygon structures connect with the rest of the area. We can identify interesting things beyond our reach and then use the camera's filters to investigate their properties from afar."

Source: NASA

Explore further: Time in space exposes materials to the test of time

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Study shows no lead pollution in oilsands region

Oct 24, 2014

New research from a world-renowned soil and water expert at the University of Alberta reveals that there's no atmospheric lead pollution in Alberta's oilsands region—a finding that contradicts current scientific ...

Recommended for you

Time in space exposes materials to the test of time

1 hour ago

Much like that pickup truck rusting in your backyard thanks to time, rain and the elements, extended stays in the brutal environment of space can take its toll on spacecraft, satellites and space stations. ...

Earth's orbit around the sun

3 hours ago

Ever since the 16th century when Nicolaus Copernicus demonstrated that the Earth revolved around in the Sun, scientists have worked tirelessly to understand the relationship in mathematical terms. If this ...

How can we search for life on icy moons such as Europa?

4 hours ago

Our solar system is host to a wealth of icy worlds that may have water beneath the surface. The Cassini spacecraft recently uncovered evidence of a possible ocean under the surface of Saturn's moon, Mimas.

CubeSat instruments to demonstrate NASA firsts

5 hours ago

The Dellingr six-unit CubeSat, which is taking its developers just one year to design, build and integrate, won't be the only potentially groundbreaking capability for NASA. Its heliophysics payloads also ...

Musk is testing x-wing style fins, spaceport drone ship

7 hours ago

(Phys.org) —Elon Musk over the weekend sent out a number of tweets about what's up at SpaceX in its rocket endeavors, talking about features that triggered a steady response stream of "Awesome," "Rad," ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

aussiecarter
3.8 / 5 (4) Jun 14, 2008
i'm loving the high res images.
superhuman
1.8 / 5 (5) Jun 14, 2008
>Studying dust on Mars helps scientists understand atmospheric dust on Earth, which is important because dust is a significant factor in global climate change.

Yeah it makes a lot of sense to send a multi million $$ craft to Mars to study dust on Earth...

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.