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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    ‘Phoenix’ attempting to gather elusive ice

    The UA-led Phoenix Lander is about to break out its high-powered motorized rasp for the first time on Mars in an attempt to gather an ideal ice sample.

    The team will test the rasp in the coming days to prepare to deliver a sample of icy soil to the craft’s Thermal and Evolved Gas Analyzer, said mission officials in a statement released yesterday.

    The rasp was added to ‘Phoenix’ later in its development and designed on a short schedule, said Barry Goldstein, the Phoenix project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. Now it might play a critical role in the mission as scientists try to get to the elusive Martian ice.

    “”While ‘Phoenix’ was in development, we added the rasp to the robotic arm specifically to grind into very hard surface ice,”” Goldstein said. “”This is exactly the situation we find we are facing on Mars, so we believe we have the right tool for the job.””

    According to the statement, the rasp itself extends from an opening on the back of ‘Phoenix’s robotic arm scoop. The back of the scoop is placed on the ground and a motor rotates the rasp that kicks shaving into piles that can be collected by the scoop.

    The next sample delivered to TEGA is of the utmost importance, because mission scientists announced on July 2 that a short circuit discovered in the instrument meant that TEGA’s next experiment might be its last. Mission scientists are therefore treating its next sample with extra caution. They want to make sure TEGA definitely gets at least one more ice-rich sample.

    TEGA will “”bake”” the contents of the sample and “”sniff”” any gases that are released to analyze its contents and give scientists clues about the history of Mars ice and whether or not the planet may be habitable for primitive life.

    ‘Phoenix’ used its robotic arm earlier in the week to clear the way for such a sample, according to a statement released by mission officials on Monday. ‘Phoenix’ extended a trench that scientists call “”Snow White”” to give ‘Phoenix’ a bigger surface area from which to scrape for ice.

    In other news on Mars, ‘Phoenix’ used its soil probe last week for the first time, poking the fork-like instrument into Martian soil to measure how well it conducts heat and electricity. ‘Phoenix’ also received its first image back from its atomic-force microscope, a Swiss-made instrument that examines the shape of tiny particles by touching them, according to a statement released July 10.

    The microscope can show details of soil-particle shapes down to about 200 nanometers, or less than one-hundredth the width of a human hair, the statement said.

    “”It’s just amazing when you think that the entire area in this image fits on an eyelash,”” said mission scientist Michael Hecht, who leads the instrument team that contains the conductivity probe and the atomic-force microscope.

    Peter Smith, the mission’s principal investigator, said in Monday’s statement that the results of these experiments were forthcoming.

    “”The preliminary signatures are intriguing,”” he said. “”Before we release results, we want to verify that our interpretations are correct by conducting laboratory tests.””

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