Sticky Martian soil foils Phoenix Landers first ice study

July 29th, 2008 - 4:42 pm ICT by ANI  

London, July 29 (ANI): The first attempt by NASAs Phoenix Mars lander to quickly collect and analyze ice samples was foiled by sticky Martian soil that refused to budge from the collection scoop.

On July 26th, the robot drilled holes with a rasp on its robotic arm in a work trench known as Snow White.

Phoenixs robotic arm then scooped up an icy soil sample and attempted to quickly transfer it to the onboard TEGA (Thermal and Evolved Gas Analyzer) instrument before the ice vaporised in the thin Martian air.

Unfortunately, the icy soil clung to the end of the robotic arm even after the scoop was tipped upside down and the rasp was activated in an attempt to jiggle the sample free.

As a result, not enough material reached TEGAs oven for a proper analysis.

The Phoenix team is currently brainstorming ways to get more soil into the TEGA oven.

We are going to modify the process to acquire another icy sample and attempt to deliver it to TEGA, said project manager Barry Goldstein of NASAs Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. We will repeat what we did successfully with small modifications to adjust for what we learned, he added.

One option is to shorten the time the rasp operates as it drills holes in the trench to reduce any potential heating of the soil sample.

The team is also considering increasing the number of times the scoop is vibrated when the soil is dropped onto TEGA.

By measuring the composition of the icy soil with TEGA, the team could try to determine whether even small amounts of liquid water a sign of possible habitability existed on the surface in the past.

Such signs could come from studying the distribution of salts which could have been deposited by the evaporation of liquid water at different soil depths.

Were looking to see if the ice has partly melted producing thin films of water and evaporating to produce salts, said team member Ray Arvidson.

Studying the isotopes in the water ice could also determine if some of it condensed as frost from the atmosphere. (ANI)

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