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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    UA Lander unearths what may be ice

    The UA-led Phoenix Lander is continuing to test its first samples taken from the surface of Mars and preparing to investigate recently unearthed material that may be ice.

    Mission scientist William Boynton said that the first tests by ‘Phoenix’ have not revealed ice in its soil samples. However, pictures taken by the space probe showed that its robotic arm has uncovered a whitish substance underneath the surface that mission scientists believe could be ice.

    ‘Phoenix’ landed near the Martian arctic to investigate ice that scientists believe is just below the surface of the planet’s northern plains.

    The light-toned material can be seen in photos near the end of a trench dug by ‘Phoenix.’ The mission will continue to excavate and monitor the site. If what the team is seeing is ice, it should change over time. For example, frost may form on the site, said Ray Arvidson, leader of the robotic arm team.

    Arvidson couldn’t say when ‘Phoenix’ would sample ice on Mars.

    “”Over the next few weeks, we will excavate soil samples… and hopefully get to the ice,”” he said. “”Lander missions are not deterministic. We’ll do it as fast as we can with our systems.””

    ‘Phoenix’ has been heating the soil samples that it has taken with its Thermal and Evolved Gas Analyzer (TEGA). The device has eight ovens that “”bake”” samples of Martian soil. TEGA then “”sniffs”” gases released by baking them to analyze the sample’s composition. The first heating warmed a sample of Martian soil to 95 degrees Fahrenheit to see if there was ice in the sample. The experiment didn’t return evidence of ice, but that the science team had not yet expected to find any, Boynton said.

    TEGA did have some difficulty getting its first sample because the Martian soil was so clumpy, and ‘Phoenix’ had some trouble getting it into its ovens. However, Boynton said that with the soil now delivered, TEGA is working “”very well.””

    Arvidson said that it was difficult to say what exactly ‘Phoenix’ could expect to find over the next few weeks, or even the next few days. It was difficult to make any agenda for ‘Phoenix’ beyond one or two days in advance because anything the team did would be in response to new discoveries made on Mars, he said.

    “”Lander missions are truly exploration and discovery,”” Arvidson said.

    For now ‘Phoenix’ will excavate the trench over the next few days and then deliver samples to its major instruments over the next week, he said.

    However, Arvidson said that even those plans could be up in the air.

    “”Plans are only as good as the next discoveries,”” he said.

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