NASA’s Phoenix Lander Finishes Scooping Up Soil


This image, taken by the Surface Stereo Imager (SSI) of NASA’s Phoenix Lander, shows Martian soil piled on top of the spacecraft’s deck and some of its instruments.

NASA MISSION UPDATE
21 October 2008

NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander has finished scooping soil samples to deliver to its onboard laboratories, and is now preparing to analyze samples already obtained. Scientists are anxious to analyze the samples as the power Phoenix generates continues to drop. The amount of sunlight is waning on Mars’ northern plains as late-summer turns to fall.

The spacecraft’s robotic arm is digging into the lower portion of the “Upper Cupboard” and “Stone Soup” areas of the Phoenix worksite. Its Surface Stereoscopic Imager is taking photos of this trenching so scientists can better map out the geology of the Red Planet’s ice table.

(more…)

As Shadows Grow Long, Phoenix Lander Continues Mars Dig

This false-color image shows color variations of the trench, informally named “La Mancha,” and reveals the ice layer beneath the soil surface. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Texas A&M University

NASA MISSION UPDATE

As fall approaches Mars’ northern plains, NASA’s Phoenix Lander is busy digging into the Red Planet’s soil and scooping it into its on-board science laboratories for analysis.

Over the past two weeks, Phoenix’s nearly 2.4-meter-long (8 feet) arm moved a rock, nicknamed “Headless,” about 0.4 meters (16 inches), and snapped an image of the rock with its camera. Then, the robotic arm scraped the soil underneath the rock and delivered a few teaspoonfuls of soil onto the lander’s optical and atomic-force microscopes. These microscopes are part of Phoenix’s Microscopy, Electrochemistry and Conductivity Analyzer (MECA).

(more…)

Spectacular New Images of Mars Released

University of Arizona Communications

The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, has returned more than 8,214 gigapixel-size images of the Martian surface since the start of the science phase of the mission in November 2006.

HiRISE scientists released 1,005 observations of Mars made between April 26 and July 21 to NASA’s mission data archive, called the Planetary Data System, and also to the public last week.

(more…)

Phoenix Spots Heat Shield on Surface

MARS PHOENIX MISSION UPDATE

The Phoenix Mars Lander’s Surface Stereo Imager took an image of the spacecraft’s crumpled heat shield this week.

The image was taken on Sept. 16, 2008, the 111th Martian day of the mission.

(more…)

More Soil Delivered to Phoenix Lab

NASA MISSION UPDATE

This image, taken by NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander’s Surface Stereo Imager, documents the delivery of a soil sample from the “Snow White” trench to the Wet Chemistry Laboratory. A small pile of soil is visible on the lower edge of the second cell from the top.This deck-mounted lab is part of Phoenix’s Microscopy, Electrochemistry and Conductivity Analyzer (MECA).

The delivery was made on Sept. 12, 2008, which was Sol 107 (the 107th Martian day) of the mission, which landed on May 25, 2008.

(more…)

Sunrise on Mars

NASA MISSION UPDATE

From the location of NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander, above the Martian arctic circle, the sun does not set during the peak of the Martian summer.

This period of maximum solar energy is past — on Sol 86, the 86th Martian day after the Phoenix landing, the sun fully set behind a slight rise to the north for about half an hour.

This red-filter image taken by the lander’s Surface Stereo Imager, shows the sun rising on the morning of sol 90, Aug. 25, 2008, the last day of the Phoenix nominal mission.

The image was taken at 51 minutes past midnight local solar time during the slow sunrise that followed a 75 minute “night.” The skylight in the image is light scattered off atmospheric dust particles and ice crystals.

The setting sun does not mean the end of the mission. In late July, the Phoenix Mission was extended through September, rather than the 90-sol duration originally planned as the prime mission.

A Cloudy Day on Mars

NASA MISSION UPDATE

Clouds scoot across the Martian sky in a movie clip consisting of 10 frames taken by the Surface Stereo Imager on NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander.

This clip accelerates the motion. The camera took these 10 frames over a 10-minute period from 2:52 p.m. to 3:02 p.m. local solar time at the Phoenix site during Sol 94 (Aug. 29), the 94th Martian day since landing.

Particles of water-ice make up these clouds, like ice-crystal cirrus clouds on Earth. Ice hazes have been common at the Phoenix site in recent days.

The camera took these images as part of a campaign by the Phoenix team to see clouds and track winds. The view is toward slightly west of due south, so the clouds are moving westward or west-northwestward.

The clouds are a dramatic visualization of the Martian water cycle. The water vapor comes off the north pole during the peak of summer. The northern-Mars summer has just passed its peak water-vapor abundance at the Phoenix site. The atmospheric water is available to form into clouds, fog and frost, such as the lander has been observing recently.

Phoenix Finds Mars Not Unlike Humid East Coast – Only A Lot Drier

Phoenix inserted the four needles of its thermal and conductivity probe into Martian soil during the 98th Martian day, or sol, of the mission and left it in place until Sol 99 (Sept. 4, 2008).

NASA MISSION UPDATE

A fork-like conductivity probe has sensed humidity rising and falling beside NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander, but when stuck into the ground, its measurements so far indicate soil that is thoroughly and perplexingly dry.

“If you have water vapor in the air, every surface exposed to that air will have water molecules adhere to it that are somewhat mobile, even at temperatures well below freezing,” said Aaron Zent of NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., lead scientist for Phoenix’s thermal and electroconductivity probe.

(more…)

Phoenix Digs Deeper As Third Month Nears End

MARS PHOENIX MISSION UPDATE
25 August 2008

The next sample of Martian soil being grabbed for analysis is coming from a trench about three times deeper than any other trench NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander has dug.

On Tuesday, Aug. 26, the spacecraft will finish the 90 Martian days (or “sols”) originally planned as its primary mission and will continue into a mission extension through September, as announced by NASA in July. Phoenix landed on May 25.

“As we near what we originally expected to be the full length of the mission, we are all thrilled with how well the mission is going,” said Phoenix Project Manger Barry Goldstein of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

(more…)

Phoenix Microscope Takes First Image of Martian Dust Particle

MARS PHOENIX UPDATE
14 August 2008

NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander has taken the first-ever image of a single particle of Mars’ ubiquitous dust, using its atomic force microscope.

The particle — shown at higher magnification than anything ever seen from another world — is a rounded particle about one micrometer, or one millionth of a meter, across. It is a speck of the dust that cloaks Mars. Such dust particles color the Martian sky pink, feed storms that regularly envelop the planet and produce Mars’ distinctive red soil.

“This is the first picture of a clay-sized particle on Mars, and the size agrees with predictions from the colors seen in sunsets on the Red Planet,” said Phoenix co-investigator Urs Staufer of the University of Neuchatel, Switzerland, who leads a Swiss consortium that made the microscope.

“Taking this image required the highest resolution microscope operated off Earth and a specially designed substrate to hold the Martian dust,” said Tom Pike, Phoenix science team member from Imperial College London. “We always knew it was going to be technically very challenging to image particles this small.”

(more…)

Phoenix Lander Finds Perchlorates in Soil

NASA MISSION UPDATE
5 August 2008

Phoenix Mars mission scientists spoke today on research in progress concerning an ongoing investigation of perchlorate salts detected in soil analyzed by the wet chemistry laboratory aboard NASA’s Phoenix Lander.

“Finding perchlorates is neither good nor bad for life, but it does make us reassess how we think about life on Mars,” said Michael Hecht of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., lead scientist for the Microscopy, Electrochemistry and Conductivity Analyzer (MECA), the instrument that includes the wet chemistry laboratory.

If confirmed, the result is exciting, Hecht said, “because different types of perchlorate salts have interesting properties that may bear on the way things work on Mars if — and that’s a big ‘if ‘ — the results from our two teaspoons of soil are representative of all of Mars, or at least a significant portion of the planet.”

(more…)

Tastes Like Chicken Broth?

MARS PHOENIX MISSION UPDATE
31 July 2008

Laboratory tests aboard NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander have identified water in a soil sample. The lander’s robotic arm delivered the sample Wednesday to an instrument that identifies vapors produced by the heating of samples.

“We have water,” said William Boynton of the University of Arizona, lead scientist for the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer, or TEGA. “We’ve seen evidence for this water ice before in observations by the Mars Odyssey orbiter and in disappearing chunks observed by Phoenix last month, but this is the first time Martian water has been touched and tasted.”

With enticing results so far and the spacecraft in good shape, NASA also announced operational funding for the mission will extend through Sept. 30. The original prime mission of three months ends in late August. The mission extension adds five weeks to the 90 days of the prime mission.

“Phoenix is healthy and the projections for solar power look good, so we want to take full advantage of having this resource in one of the most interesting locations on Mars,” said Michael Meyer, chief scientist for the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

(more…)

Trench on Mars Ready for Next Sampling by NASA Lander

PHOENIX MISSION UPDATE
24 July 2008

NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander has groomed the bottom of a shallow trench to prepare for collecting a sample to be analyzed from a hard subsurface layer where the soil may contain frozen water.

Images received Thursday morning confirmed that the lander’s robotic arm had scraped the top of the hard layer clean during activities of Phoenix’s 58th Martian day, or sol, corresponding to overnight Wednesday to Thursday.

The Phoenix team developed commands for sending to the spacecraft Thursday to complete two remaining preparations necessary before collecting a sample and delivering it to the lander’s Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer (TEGA). One part of the plan for Sol 59 (overnight Thursday to Friday) would assure that the scoop is empty of any soil collected earlier. Another would complete a final cleaning of any volatile materials from the oven that will receive the sample.

In the past two weeks, the team has refined techniques for using a powered rasp on the back of the arm’s scoop to cut and collect shavings of material from the bottom of the trench. The trench, informally named “Snow White,” is 4 to 5 centimeters deep (about 2 inches), about 23 centimeters wide (9 inches), and about 60 centimeters long (24 inches) long.

(more…)

Phoenix Pulls an All-Nighter

PHOENIX MISSION UPDATE

TUCSON, Ariz. — Phoenix early Tuesday finished its longest work shift of the mission. The lander stayed awake for 33 hours, completing tasks that included rasping and scraping by the robotic arm, in addition to atmosphere observations in coordination with simultaneous observations by NASA’sMars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

“Our rasping test yesterday gave us enough confidence that we’re now planning for the next use of the rasp to be for acquiring a sample to be delivered to TEGA,” said Phoenix project manager Barry Goldstein of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. TEGA is Phoenix’s Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer, an instrument that heats samples in small ovens and uses a mass spectrometer to study the vapors driven off by the heating.

As preparation for that sample delivery in coming days, the Phoenix team developed plans to command the lander Tuesday evening to conduct 80 scrapings of the bottom of a trench informally named “Snow White.” The scraping is designed to freshly expose frozen material and ready the surface for using the rasp.

Picture caption: This animation combines two images of the trench informally named “Snow White” taken by the Surface Stereo Imager. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Texas A&M University

NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander Continues Tests with Rasp

PHOENIX MISSION UPDATE
18 July 2008

TUCSON, Ariz. — The team operating NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander plans to tell the lander today to do a second, larger test of using a motorized rasp to produce and gather shavings of frozen ground.

The planned test is a preparation for putting a similar sample into one of Phoenix’s laboratory ovens in coming days. The instrument with the oven, the Thermal and Evolved- Gas Analyzer (TEGA), will be used to check whether the hard layer exposed in a shallow trench is indeed rich in water ice, as scientists expect, and to identify some other ingredients in the frozen soil.

The rasp flings some of the shavings that it produces directly into an opening on the back of the scoop at the end of the lander’s robotic arm. The test planned for today differs in several ways from the first test of the rasp on Mars, on July 15.

“First, we will scrape the terrain before rasping, to expose fresh terrain for sampling,” said Richard Volpe of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., an engineer for the Phoenix robotic arm team. “Second, we will rasp four times in a row, twice the amount previously. Third, the scoop blade will be run across the rasp holes to pick up as much of the tailings as possible.”

(more…)