[meteorite-list] NASA Phoenix Mission Conducting Extended Activities on Mars
From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Tue, 2 Sep 2008 17:00:03 -0700 (PDT)
NASA Phoenix Mission Conducting Extended Activities on Mars
University of Arizona
August 29, 2008
TUCSON, Ariz. -- NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander, having completed its 90-day primary
mission, is continuing its science collection activities. Science and
engineering teams are looking forward to at least another month of Martian
Due to the spacecraft's sufficient power and experiment capacity, NASA announced
on July 31 that the mission would continue operations through Sept. 30. Once the
lander finishes collecting science data, the mission teams will continue the
analysis of the measurements and observations.
"We have been successful beyond my wildest dreams, and we're not done yet
learning from Mars about its secrets," said Peter Smith, Phoenix principal
investigator from The University of Arizona, Tucson.
"We are still working to understand the properties and the history of the ice at
our landing site on the northern plains of Mars. While the sun has begun to dip
below the horizon, we still have power to continue our observations and
experiments. And we're hoping to see a gradual change in the Martian weather in
the next few weeks," he said.
Among the critical questions the Phoenix science team is trying to answer is
whether the northern region of Mars could have been a habitable zone.
Phoenix has already confirmed the presence of water ice, determined the soil is
alkaline and identified magnesium, sodium, potassium, chloride and perchlorate
in the soil. Chemical analyses continue even as Phoenix's robotic arm reaches
out for more samples to sniff and taste.
"It's been gratifying to be able to share the excitement of our exploration with
the public through the thousands upon thousands of images that our cameras have
taken. They have been available to the public on our web site as soon as they
are received on Earth," Smith said. Phoenix's Surface Stereo Imager, Robotic
Arm Camera and microscope have returned more than 20,000 pictures since landing
day, May 25.
The mission's meteorological instruments have made daily atmospheric readings
and have watched as the pressure decreases, signaling a change in the season.
At least one ice water cloud has been observed and consistent wind patterns
have been recorded over the landing site.
The team is currently working to diagnose an intermittent interference that has
become apparent in the path for gases generated by heating a soil sample in the
Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer to reach the instrument's mass spectrometer.
Vapors from all samples baked to high temperatures have reached the mass
spectrometer so far, however data has shown that the gas flow has been erratic,
which is puzzling the scientists.
Meanwhile, plans call for Phoenix to widen its deepest trench, called "Stone
Soup," to scoop a fresh sample of soil from that depth for analysis in the wet
chemistry laboratory of the Microscopy, Electrochemistry and Conductivity
Analyzer (MECA). Stone Soup measures about 18 centimeters (7 inches) deep. The
first attempt to collect a sample from Stone Soup, on Aug. 26, got 2 to 3 cubic
centimeters (half a teaspoon) into the scoop. This was judged to be not quite
enough, so delivering a sample was deferred.
In coming days the team also plans to have Phoenix test a revised method for
handling a sample rich in water-ice. Two such samples earlier stuck inside the
The Phoenix mission is led by Peter Smith of the University of Arizona, Tucson,
with project management at JPL and development partnership at Lockheed Martin,
Denver. International contributions are provided by the Canadian Space Agency;
the University of Neuchatel, Switzerland; the universities of Copenhagen and
Aarhus, Denmark; the Max Planck Institute, Germany; and the Finnish
Meteorological Institute. JPL is a division of the California Institute of
Technology in Pasadena.
Sara Hammond, UA (520-626-1974; shammond at lpl.arizona.edu)
Guy Webster, NASA Jet Propulsion Lab (818-354-5011; guy.webster at jpl.nasa.gov)
Dwayne Brown, NASA HQ (202-358-1726; dwayne.c.brown at nasa.gov)
Received on Tue 02 Sep 2008 08:00:03 PM PDT