As fall creeps up on the arctic plains of Mars, NASA's Phoenix Lander is using the few weeks it has left to gather as many samples of Martian dirt for analysis as it can.
Over the past two weeks,
Then the robotic arm scraped up some of the dirt underneath the rock and delivered a few teaspoonfuls of it onto the lander's optical and atomic-force microscopes. These microscopes are part of Phoenix's Microscopy, Electrochemistry and Conductivity Analyzer (MECA). (MECA also includes a wet chemistry lab that analyzes the composition of dirt samples.)
Scientists are conducting
preliminary analysis of the dirt sample delivered to
The dirt under the rock piqued their
interest because it may contain a high concentration of salts, said
As water evaporates in arctic and arid environments on Earth, it leaves behind salt which can be found under or around rocks, Blaney said. "That's why we wanted to look under Headless, to see if there's a higher concentration of salts there," she explained.
"We hope to learn more about
how the ice depth is controlled by physical processes," said
As the lander enters its fifth month on Mars, its weather instruments have detected water-ice haze clouds and snowfall in the northern Martian sky as temperatures get colder with the waning daylight.
As sunlight at
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