Phoenix Mars Lander Works Through the Night

Phoenix Mars Lander Works Through the Night
The double doors on the right are wide open in this image of four pairs of oven doors on Phoenix's Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer (TEGA). Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Texas A&M University

(PhysOrg.com) -- To coordinate with observations made by an orbiter flying repeatedly overhead, NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander is working a schedule Monday that includes staying awake all night for the first time.

Phoenix is using its weather station, stereo camera and conductivity probe to monitor changes in the lower atmosphere and ground surface at the same time NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter studies the atmosphere and ground from above.

The lander's fork-like thermal and conductivity probe was inserted into the soil Sunday for more than 24 hours of measurements coordinated with the atmosphere observations. One goal is to watch for time-of-day changes such as whether some water alters from ice phase to vapor phase and enters the atmosphere from the soil.

"We are looking for patterns of movement and phase change," said Michael Hecht, lead scientist for Phoenix's Microscopy, Electrochemistry and Conductivity Analyzer, which includes the conductivity probe. "The probe is working great. We see some changes in soil electrical properties, which may be related to water, but we're still chewing on the data."

The extended work shift for the lander began Sunday afternoon Pacific Time. In Mars time at the landing site, it lasts from the morning of Phoenix's 55th Martian day, or sol, to the afternoon of its 56th sol.

The Phoenix team's plans for Sol 56 also include commanding the lander to conduct additional testing of the techniques for collecting a sample of icy soil. When the team is confident about the collecting method, it plans to use Phoenix's robotic arm to deliver an icy sample to an oven of the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer (TEGA).

The TEGA instrument successfully opened both doors Saturday for the oven chosen to get the first icy sample. Images from the Surface Stereo Camera confirmed that the doors are wide open.

Provided by NASA


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Jul 22, 2008
Wasn't this thing supposed to give us some kind of definitive answer as to whether or not life existed/exists on Mars? I didn't think we sent it there for the weather report.


Jul 22, 2008
Wasn't this thing supposed to give us some kind of definitive answer as to whether or not life existed/exists on Mars? I didn't think we sent it there for the weather report.



I don't believe that was the only reason at all. And what's wrong with finding out about temperatures/weather changes etc? That would lead to answers about life anyway, and would also confirm if it was probable to have people land on Mars or even one day build an outpost there.

There is no point sending it there to answer questions about current/past life without knowing why its apparent green past wasn't sustained, which could be directly linked to weather changes. It's all relevant.

yyz
Jul 22, 2008
I'm curious as to whether the stereo camera will also be looking for Martian meteors? I believe I read that the camera(s) are sensitive enough to make these observations and that observing sessions were planned. Guess we'll hear about it if & when they are spotted.

Jul 23, 2008
They could have loaded a few more tools onto it without increasing its' weight much. Why not a raman spectrometer or squid magentometers or MEMS

Jul 23, 2008
There are no instruments on the Phoenix lander that can actually detect life, just the elemental and molecular composition of the materials it can dig up.

http://www.nasa.g...ega.html
The oven bakes the material and basically smells what's in the cooked sample.

http://www.nasa.g...eca.html
Then there is the liquid chem lab that can analyze the conductivity, PH, and some minerals.

You can infer that there maybe the possibility of life based on the elemental and molecular composition of the materials.

That is about as definitive as we are going to get with the Phoenix Lander.

http://www.physor...602.html
Also this article point to the existance of life thriving at a extremely slow metabolic rate. Life like this could certainly have survived periods of extreme conditions. Being genetically distinct says a lot about how little we understand the process of living without the "standard" necessities for life.

Jul 23, 2008
Oh ok, my mistake. I thought this mission was actually meant to produce some important data about Mars we didn't already know (especially with respect to life). Instead it just appears to be another half a billion dollar paper weight that can take pretty pictures.

Jul 24, 2008
Oh ok, my mistake. I thought this mission was actually meant to produce some important data about Mars we didn't already know (especially with respect to life). Instead it just appears to be another half a billion dollar paper weight that can take pretty pictures.


Would you like to build a lander that has done quite well so far and has overcome difficulties that came about AFTER they discovered new things - such as the consistency of the clumpy soil that didn't get into the oven as easily as they thought it would?

Just what are you expecting? You're just waiting for a little green man to stick his face in the camera and say hi, aren't you?

Indulge us as to how much you already knew about Mars that this lander hasn't already told us since it landed. They're doing what they can in an unknown region and with a lander that doesn't have the ability to up and move about like the rovers. One day they may be able to fit such high tech (higher tech by that time) gadgets onto a moving vehicle. Until then we have to be patient, unless you want to be proactive and tell them how they can build such a device right now.

Jul 24, 2008
No of course you're right, for half a billion dollars I'm expecting way too much out of an agency supposedly jam packed with really smart guys. Icy soil might be...clumpy...go ****ing figure.

Jul 24, 2008
No of course you're right, for half a billion dollars I'm expecting way too much out of an agency supposedly jam packed with really smart guys. Icy soil might be...clumpy...go ****ing figure.


How could they have known the soil itself was going to be so different to ours? They know what Earth icy soil is like, and designed the thing based on what we know. You don't think it's a marvel to have a working robot on another planet digging and analysing the dirt and temperatures for us? You realise a lot of the money goes to the actual launching of the thing. Do you know a cheaper way to send something into space and to land on another celestial body? By all means - go and apply to NASA because you're obviously oozing with intelligence and knowledge. You could have told them you knew what Mars soil was going to be like so they could design it based on your expertise and saved themselves a little time and money.

Jul 24, 2008
Uhhh I guess my point was that the soil ISN'T different than ours. Icy soil ON EARTH can be clumpy as hell. I don't have to be "oozing with intelligence" to know that. My three year old cousin knows that when he goes outside in the winter and picks up some dirt....

So no I don't need to apply at NASA, they don't need someone of my intelligence, all they need is to talk to a three year old who's played in cold dirt at some point in his short life.

Jul 25, 2008
Still waiting for evidence of ice on mars.

Jul 25, 2008
Yes, I would assume that NASA would spend all that money and not make the machine able to sift soil into its compartments. Clearly, they prepared for the types of soil we know about on Earth. They assumed it would be a little looser and sandy than it turned out to be. Knowing the cold regions here on Earth why the hell would they make a machine unable to deal with known soil substance?

It's clearly not the same. And I have a feeling that your 3 year old cousin might indeed be more intelligent than you.

Jul 25, 2008
Knowing the cold regions here on Earth why the hell would they make a machine unable to deal with known soil substance?


Why indeed? Did you not understand that was my point?

It's clearly not the same.


No clearly it's exactly the same. Clumpy soil is absolutely something they should have anticipated and planned for, and unless it's some kind of magical martian cement it's pretty easy to deal with and anticipate/plan for based on principles we know of dealing with clumpy soil right here on Earth. You're just trying to make excuses for a blatant oversight.

And I have a feeling that your 3 year old cousin might indeed be more intelligent than you.


Wow this is REALLY personal somehow for you isn't it? Do you work for NASA or something? Did I offend you in another life? Did I insult you somewhere and miss it, or are you just a naturally sensitive and angry person?

Jul 25, 2008
Oh and before you try to tell me it IS some kind of magical cement, we've known for some time from spectral analysis of the dust storms and the viking missions (those missions actually produced intresting data at the time) that martian soil is montmorillonite a type of smectite clay with silicates of various sorts consistent with the grinding down of basalt and other lavas. Obviously there are high levels of iron oxide as well, but these are all elements we know about here on earth, nothing special, or magical, OR UNEXPECTED there.

Jul 27, 2008
Oh and before you try to tell me it IS some kind of magical cement, we've known for some time from spectral analysis of the dust storms and the viking missions (those missions actually produced intresting data at the time) that martian soil is montmorillonite a type of smectite clay with silicates of various sorts consistent with the grinding down of basalt and other lavas. Obviously there are high levels of iron oxide as well, but these are all elements we know about here on earth, nothing special, or magical, OR UNEXPECTED there.


You're trying to pass off your cynical comments as fact. You're just being overly critical of the mission because they've yet to prove life on Mars or come up with something mind-boggingly amazing. It could be Mars is another boring piece of rock with nothing new or exciting. Patience is a virtue. You have to learn to wait and see what the final moments of the Phoenix lander's life will turn up, and for them to finish translating the data.

You started bringing personal things into it by mentioning your 3 year old cousin's abilities as being just as good as anyone in NASA. They know more about what they're doing than you do. I will admit I took that a bit far, as humourous as it was to me while I typed it. But until you can build and launch a device that rivals the Phoenix and comes across some incredible discoveries and works without a single hitch, just acknowledge they've made a great attempt at something they wasn't sure was going to work in the first place.

Don't expect science to give you fantastic results overnight. Most things worth doing take time and effort. And I'm also pretty sure NASA's long list of accomplishments greatly outweighs your own. You don't have to trust they did everything to the tee, just trust that a great deal of preparation and thought went into it.


Jul 28, 2008
Cynical? You bet, every American has the right to be cynical about how THEIR money is being spent. Especially by an agency which failed totally on the two previous missions, then had the gumption to name this one phoenix, and not have a single shred of information worth the half billion poured into the project come to light.

So yeah I'm pretty cynical until we actually start to do something worthwhile in space again other than use tax payer money as a gravy train and claim that temperature readings on Mars (which I'm pretty sure we already know the ave. temperature there) as the coolest thing since sliced bread.

And FTR I never said my 3 year old cousin was as "good" as anyone at NASA, I was illustrating that the fact that icy cold dirt might have a rigid (clumpy) consistancy as obvious to everyone...including a three year old.

Jul 30, 2008
Actually, as an ex-NASA contractor type, who worked in R&D on projects such as those of the lander...big applause for selecting the site, building the appropriate lander, controlling it to a successful landing (remember how many Mars landing attempts have failed).

However, sorry, I'm disappointed that they didn't anticipate a variety of soils. If I was on a NASA review (which I have been), that would be on the top of my list of questions. Second would be the questionable method they chose to solve the problem: causing violent vibrations that (as far as I know) were not part of the design, and which may short the oven.

Overall, they are getting a grade of B-. They should have thought of these things. Should have provided some processing method besides dumping soil from a shovel on a fixed wire mesh. (Note that geologists on Earth use a set of meshes with different opening sizes.)

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