Mars Lander Aims to Look Under a Rock
NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander is going to try something new ? pushing aside a Martian rock and peeking at what's underneath, mission scientists said Monday.
A series of commands just developed by mission engineers will allow Phoenix's 7.71 foot-long (2.35 meter-long) robotic arm to nudge the rock, located on the north side of the lander. The arm wasn't actually designed to make this kind of move.
"We don't know whether we can
do this until we try," said Ashitey Trebi Ollennu, a robotics
engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in
If the technique the engineers have
developed works, enough area will be exposed for
"The appeal of studying what's
underneath is so strong we have to give this a try," said Michael Mellon,
Digging into the dirt under the rock could shed light on the processes that affect the hard, icy layer found beneath the Martian surface in trenches that the robotic arm has dug around the lander.
"The rocks are darker than the material around them, and they hold heat," Mellon said. "In theory, the ice table should deflect downward under each rock. If we checked and saw this deflection, that would be evidence the ice is probably in equilibrium with the water vapor in the atmosphere."
Alternatively, if the icy layer were found closer to the surface under the rock, it could suggest that rocks collect moisture from the atmosphere, with the moisture becoming part of the icy layer.
Commands to move the rock were sent
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