US spacecraft takes first image of Martian dust particle

August 15th, 2008 - 1:43 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Aug 15 (Xinhua) NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander has taken the first image of a particle of Mars’ ubiquitous dust, using its atomic force microscope, mission scientists have reported. The particle - shown at higher magnification than anything ever seen from another world - is a round particle about one micrometre, or one millionth of a metre across, the scientists at the US space agency said Thursday.

It is a speck of the dust particles that cloak Mars. Such dust particles colour 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 colours seen in sunset on the Red Planet,” said Phoenix co-investigator Urs Staufer from the University of Neuchatel in Switzerland who leads a Swiss consortium that made the microscope.

The atomic force microscope can detail the shapes of particles as small as about 100 nanometres, about one-thousandth the width of a human hair.

“I’m delighted that this microscope is producing images that will help us understand Mars at the highest detail ever,” Staufer said.

“This is proof of the microscope’s potential. We are now ready to start doing scientific experiments that will add a new dimension to measurement being made by other Phoenix lander instruments,” he added.

After this first success, scientists are now working on building up “a portrait gallery” of the dust on Mars.

Mars’ ultra-fine dust is the medium that actively links gases in the Martian atmosphere to processes in Martian soil, so it is critically important to understanding Mars’ environment, the researchers said.

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