Mars Lander Just Keeps Digging
NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander has spent the last few weeks digging new trenches in its landing area, looking for new materials to analyze in its instruments and examining the soil and subsurface layer of water ice.
New trenches opened recently include the "Burn Alive 3" trench in the "Wonderland" digging area in the eastern portion of the ground that Phoenix's robotic arm can reach and the "Stone Soup" trench in the "Cupboard" excavation area near the western end of the lander's workspace.
The informal names given to digging areas and samples come largely from fairy tales and folklore and are intended to aid the team's discussion of the mission.
"We expect to use the robotic arm heavily over the next several weeks, delivering samples to our instruments and examining trench floors and walls to continue to search for evidence of lateral and vertical variations in soil and ice structures," said Ray Arvidson, Phoenix's "dig czar," from Washington University in St. Louis.
TEGA heats up samples in its tiny ovens and then analyzes the vapors given off to determine the composition of the material in the samples. The last sample delivered to TEGA, on Aug. 7, was to be analyzed for signs of perchlorate, a highly oxidizing substance that was detected in dirt samples by the lander's wet chemistry laboratory. Perchlorate could be a potential energy source to any microbes that may, if ever, have existed on Mars.
A sample from the Cupboard digging
area may be delivered to the wet chemistry lab. Where exactly the sample would
come from will depend on the results of digging in the "Upper
Cupboard" area and results from the lander's
thermal and electrical conductivity probe, which is located on
In upcoming sols, or Martian days,
The stickiness of samples has been a problem in terms of delivering the dirt to TEGA, because the samples tend to stick to the scoop and clump at the screened opening to the instrument's ovens. So far, scientists are unsure what is causing the samples to clump.
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