Friday, June 20, 2008


Bright Chunks At Phoenix Lander's Mars Site Must Have Been Ice

NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Max Planck Institute
Press Release June 19, 2008

Dice-size crumbs of bright material have vanished from inside a trench where they were photographed by NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander four days ago, convincing scientists that the material was frozen water that vaporized after digging exposed it.

"It must be ice," said Phoenix Principal Investigator Peter Smith of the University of Arizona, Tucson. "These little clumps completely disappearing over the course of a few days, that is perfect evidence that it's ice. There had been some question whether the bright material was salt. Salt can't do that."

The chunks were left at the bottom of a trench informally called "Dodo-Goldilocks" when Phoenix's Robotic Arm enlarged that trench on June 15, during the 20th Martian day, or sol, since landing. Several were gone when Phoenix looked at the trench early today, on Sol 24. Also early today, digging in a different trench, the Robotic Arm connected with a hard surface that has scientists excited about the prospect of next uncovering an icy layer.

The Phoenix science team spent Thursday analyzing new images and data successfully returned from the lander earlier in the day. Studying the initial findings from the new "Snow White 2" trench, located to the right of "Snow White 1," Ray Arvidson of Washington University in St. Louis, co-investigator for the robotic arm, said, "We have dug a trench and uncovered a hard layer at the same depth as the ice layer in our other trench." On Sol 24, Phoenix extended the first trench in the middle of a polygon at the "Wonderland" site. While digging, the Robotic Arm came upon a firm layer, and after three attempts to dig further, the arm went into a holding position. Such an action is expected when the Robotic Arm comes upon a hard surface.

Meanwhile, the spacecraft team at Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver is preparing a software patch to send to Phoenix in a few days so scientific data can again be saved onboard overnight when needed. Because of a large amount a duplicative file-maintenance data generated by the spacecraft Tuesday, the team is taking the precaution of not storing science data in Phoenix's flash memory, and instead downlinking it at the end of every day, until the conditions that produced those duplicative data files are corrected.

"We now understand what happened, and we can fix it with a software patch," said Phoenix Project Manager Barry Goldstein of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena. "Our three-month schedule has 30 days of margin for contingencies like this, and we have used only one contingency day out of 24 sols. The mission is well ahead of schedule. We are making excellent progress toward full mission success."

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Phoenix Mars Lander Testing Sprinkle Technique

NASA Press Release

June 9, 2008 -- Engineers operating the Robotic Arm on NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander are testing a revised method for delivering soil samples to laboratory instruments on Phoenix's deck now that researchers appreciate how clumpy the soil is at the landing site. "We're a little surprised at how much this material is clumping together when we dig into it," said Doug Ming a Phoenix science team member from NASA's Johnson Space Center, Houston. The soil's physical properties are proving to be a challenge for getting a sample intended for one instrument to pass through a screen over a delivery opening. The instrument is the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Anaylzer, or TEGA, designed to bake and sniff samples to identify some key ingredients. The analyzer vibrated the screen for 20 minutes on Sunday but detected only a few particles getting through the screen, not enough to fill the tiny oven below. "We are going to try vibrating it one more time, and if that doesn't work, it is likely we will use our new, revised delivery method on another thermal analyzer cell," said William Boynton of the University of Arizona, lead scientist for the instrument. The arm delivered the first sample to TEGA on Friday by turning the scoop over to release its contents. The revised delivery method, which Phoenix is testing for the first time today, will hold the scoop at an angle above the delivery target and sprinkle out a small amount of the sample by vibrating the scoop. The vibration comes from running a motorized rasp on the bottom of the scoop. Phoenix used the arm Sunday to collect a soil sample for the spacecraft's Optical Microscope. Today's plans include a practice of the sprinkle technique, using a small amount of soil from the sample collected Sunday. If that goes well, the Phoenix team assembled at the University of Arizona plans to sprinkle material from the same scoopful onto the microscope later this week.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Official Theme Song for Lunar Landings

The commercial for Dicsovery Channel's series "When We Left Earth" uses the Stones' "Gimmie Shelter" to hype the show. Did Tom Brokaw's recent "1968" have a leftover song on their score or something?
Sorry, but when you see those Lunar Modules pitch,roll and yaw in the Big Black, then descend towards the Moon. The usual cast of mega popstars like the Stones don't cut it.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Dig & Scoop Analysis: Place Your Bets

Based on the mass spectrometer readings from the Mars Phoenix lander, will regolith samples from the White Layer processed by TEGA consist of :

A: Water Ice

B: Salts

C: Gypsum

D: All of the above

E: None of the Above

Mars Phoenix says "Dig it!"

Three locations to the right of the test dig area are identified for the first samples to be delivered to the Thermal and Evolved Gas Analyzer (TEGA), the Wet Chemistry Lab (WCL), and the Optical Microscope (OM) on NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander. These sampling areas are informally labeled "Baby Bear", "Mama Bear", and "Papa Bear" respectively. This image was taken on the seventh day of the Mars mission, or Sol 7 (June 1, 2008) by the Surface Stereo Imager aboard NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Has Mars Phoenix hit water ice with it's thrusters?

Yesterday, interpretation of this photo from Mars by JPL scientists infers that the Mars Phoenix lander's hydrazine thrusters exposed more of the subsurface ice layer than the robotic arm ever could.