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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Clumpy soil becoming an annoying theme for UA Lander

    The devil is in the details on Mars. Clumpy soil on the Red Planet continues to give the UA-led Phoenix Lander team headaches.

    According to a statement released by mission officials Friday, ‘Phoenix’ was having some trouble filling its Thermal and Evolved Gas Analyzer (TEGA) because clumps of soil were blocking the opening to the instrument. Because they could not completely fill the instrument, analysis had to be postponed. By Saturday, however, the team announced that it had worked around the problem.

    Mission officials said that they were able to get a big enough soil sample into TEGA to begin analysis by vibrating the screen above the instrument that samples of soil pass through. In other words, sometimes TEGA just needs a good shake.

    Clumpy soil has been a bit of a theme for ‘Phoenix’ as stickier-than-expected soil has stuck to the insides of the scoop attached to its robotic arm or been difficult to pass into its instruments.

    Now that it’s in the instrument, TEGA will analyze the composition of the soil sample by “”baking”” it in its oven and then “”sniffing”” any vapors that are given off. ‘Phoenix’ scientists are looking for clues in the soil that will tell them whether or not the Martian soil has the ingredients needed to support life.

    The soil sample delivered to TEGA was taken from a trench informally named “”Rosy Red””. ‘Phoenix’ also worked Friday to expand a trench the team calls “”Neverland.”” The scientists have given most features at the landing site informal names, many of them coming from fairy tales. A distinctive hard surface underneath the spacecraft was dubbed “”Snow Queen.”” Another trench was named “”Dodo-Goldilocks.””

    Peter Smith, who leads the mission as its principal investigator, said that one of the original ideas was to name every feature after famous Arctic explorers because ‘Phoenix’ is exploring Mars’ polar regions. However, he said that he wanted the names to be more accessible for the schoolchildren across the world reading about ‘Phoenix’ and its exploits.

    The names add fun to the process, Smith said.

    “”That’s why we’re doing it – it’s because it’s a lot of fun. This could be a very serious and humorless business, but we’re trying to add a bit of pizzazz,”” he said.

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