NASAs Phoenix Lander collects an oven full of Martian soil

June 12th, 2008 - 12:37 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, June 12 (ANI): The robotic arm of NASAs Phoenix Mars Lander has delivered a partial scoopful of clumpy Martian soil to the oven on its Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer instrument, or TEGA.

TEGA has eight separate tiny ovens to bake and sniff the soil to assess its volatile ingredients, such as water.

What the Landers robotic arm did was that it delivered a partial scoopful of clumpy soil from a trench informally called Baby Bear to the number 4 oven on TEGA, on June 6, which was 12 days after landing.

A screen covers each of TEGAs eight ovens.

The screen is to prevent larger bits of soil from clogging the narrow port to each oven so that fine particles fill the oven cavity, which is no wider than a pencil lead.

Each TEGA chute also has a whirligig mechanism that vibrates the screen to help shake small particles through.

Only a few particles got through when the screen on oven number 4 was vibrated on June 6, 8 and 9.

According to Phoenix co-investigator Bill Boynton of the University of Arizona, Tucson, the oven might have filled because of the cumulative effects of all the vibrating, or because of changes in the soils cohesiveness as it sat for days on the top of the screen.

Theres something very unusual about this soil, from a place on Mars weve never been before, said Phoenix Principal Investigator Peter Smith of the University of Arizona.

Were interested in learning what sort of chemical and mineral activity has caused the particles to clump and stick together, he added.

Plans prepared by the Phoenix team for the landers activities include sprinkling Martian soil on the delivery port for the spacecrafts Optical Microscope and taking additional portions of a high-resolution color panorama of the landers surroundings. (ANI)

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