A 3-D view of a digital elevation map of a sample collected by NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander's Atomic Force Microscope (AFM). The image shows four round pits, only 5 microns in depth, that were micromachined into the silicon substrate, which is the background plane shown in red. A Martian particle -- only one micrometer, or one millionth of a meter, across -- is held in the upper left pit. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/University of Neuchatel/Imperial College London
NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander has taken its first-ever picture of a single particle of rusty Martian dust with one of its microscopes.
The speck of dust was shown at a higher magnification than anything outside of Earth has been imaged before. The rounded particle measured only about one micrometer, or one millionth of a meter, across.
"Taking this image required the
highest resolution microscope operated off Earth and a specially designed
substrate to hold the Martian dust," said Tom Pike, a
The device that imaged the dust speck is called an atomic force microscope, which maps the shape of particles in three dimensions by scanning them with a sharp tip at the end of a spring.
The atomic force microscope can
detail the shapes of particles as small as about 100 nanometers, about one
one-thousandth the width of a human hair. That is about 100 times greater magnification than seen with
And this won't be the last dust
Dust is a ubiquitous substance on Mars, coating the surface and giving it its rusty red hue. Airborne dust particles also color the Martian sky pink and feed storms that regularly envelope the planet.
The 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.
The $420-million Phoenix mission is analyzing the dust and subsurface ice layers of Mars' arctic regions to look for signs of potential past habitability.
The particle seen in the atomic
force microscope image was part of a sample scooped by the robotic arm from the
"Snow White" trench and delivered to
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