This image, taken on Aug. 20, the 85th Martian day of Phoenix's mission, by the lander's Robotic Arm Camera shows some of the dirt sample, dubbed "Burning Coals," on the screen beneath the doors to one of TEGA's ovens. One of the cell's two doors is fully open, the other partially open.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Max Planck Institute
NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander has
scooped up another sample of Martian dirt into one of its onboard laboratory
ovens. The sample will complete a profile of all depths of the surface layer of
robotic arm collected the sample, dubbed Burning
Coals, from a trench informally named Burn Alive 3. The sample comes from
an intermediate depth between the surface regolith
and the rock-hard subsurface icy layer, which
The $420 million Phoenix mission is analyzing the surface material in the Martian arctic too look for signs of potential past habitability. The mission was originally slated to last for three months, ending at the close of August, but NASA has extended the mission through the end of September.
Early on Thursday, mission
controllers received information from
TEGA won't begin heating a sample on
its own unless it senses the oven is completely full, so the
The sample will first be heated to relatively low temperatures, around 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius) so that it can detect any water vapor given off by melting ice that might be in the sample. The oven will then heat up to 257 F (125 C) to ensure that the sample is dry. The last step of the heating process pushes the temperature up to 1,832 F (1,000 C) so that the instrument can detect any gases given off to help the science team determine the specific properties of the Martian dirt.
One particular signal the
"We are expecting the sample to
look similar to previous samples," said William Boynton of the
This new sample completes a three-level profile of the Martian dirt that also includes surface material from a trench called Rosy Red and ice-layer material from a trench called Snow White.
"We want to know the structure
and composition of the soil at the surface, at the ice and in-between, to help
answer questions about the movement of water -- either as vapor or liquid --
between the icy layer and the surface," said Ray Arvidson of
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