Phoenix Scrapes Up Water Ice Samples
This image taken by Phoenix's Robotic Arm Camera on Sunday, June 29, shows the trench known as "Snow White 5." The trench is about 1.5-to-1.9 inches (4-to-5 centimeters) deep, about 9 inches (24 centimeters) wide and 13 inches (33 centimeters) long. Snow White 5 is located in a patch of Martian soil near the center of a polygonal surface feature, nicknamed "Cheshire Cat." The digging site has been named "Wonderland."
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Max Planck Institute

NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander scraped up some icy soil to analyze in its instruments, NASA announced on Tuesday.

On Saturday, the lander's 33rd Martian day, or sol, on the red planet, Phoenix enlarged the "Snow White" trench in the so-called Wonderland area. Two days earlier, the spacecraft dug down to the hard icy layer beneath the subsurface dirt with its robotic arm.

It then used the rasp on the scoop at the end of the arm to make 50 scrapes in the ice and then heaped the scrapings into little piles each with about two to four teaspoonfuls of ice. The scraping created a grid in the icy layer about 0.08 inches (2 millimeters) deep.

On Sunday, mission scientists used the craft's Surface Stereo Imager to view the scrapings and agreed that they were ideal representatives of the boundary between dirt and ice.

Mission controllers commanded the spacecraft to scoop up some of the scrapings for analysis in the lander's instruments. Phoenix will first sprinkle some of the material into the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer (TEGA), which bakes surface samples and analyzes their composition. TEGA is especially sensitive to the signature of water and can determine the melting point of ice.

By analyzing these samples from the Martian surface, scientists hope to determine whether the water ice near the planet's north pole may once of have been liquid, possibly creating a habitable zone for Martian microbial life.