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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    ‘Phoenix’ team cautious after instrument glitch

    Mission scientists are treating the UA-led Phoenix Lander’s much anticipated delivery of ice-rich soil to its test ovens with extra caution after the team discovered a short circuit in the instrument.

    According to a statement released Wednesday, a team assessing ‘Phoenix’ discovered a short circuit in its Thermal and Evolved Gas Analyzer (TEGA) and concluded that another short circuit could occur when it is used again.

    “”Since there is no way to assess the probability of another short circuit occurring, we are taking the most conservative approach and treating the next sample to TEGA as possibly our last,”” said Peter Smith in the statement. Smith leads the mission as its principal investigator.

    ‘Phoenix’ was sent to Mars in large part to analyze ice just underneath the surface of its polar regions and to determine if the Martian soil supports the conditions necessary for life. TEGA is used to “”bake”” soil samples in its ovens and then “”sniff”” any gases that they might release to analyze the soil’s content.

    ‘Phoenix’ team members believe that the short circuit was caused when one of TEGA’s ovens was vibrated repeatedly over several days in order to break up clumpy Martian soil and deliver it to the oven.

    Delivery to any TEGA oven requires vibration, but the first soil samples taken by ‘Phoenix’ needed a few extra shakes because the soil was clumpier than what scientists had expected.

    Mission officials said that extensive tests are going to be conducted to make sure that TEGA gets an oven full of ice-rich soil. The team has to prepare ‘Phoenix’ to deliver any samples quickly so that no ice evaporates in the extremely cold and dry Martian environment during the delivery process.

    Even if TEGA cannot be used again, ‘Phoenix’ has a host of other scientific instruments at its disposal for its 90-day mission, including an optical microscope, wet chemistry lab and meteorological station.

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