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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    UA Lander begins testing process

    The UA’s Phoenix Mars Lander continues to break new ground on the Red Planet.

    ‘Phoenix’ has successfully delivered and begun analyzing samples of Martian soil with two of its instruments this week, said Peter Smith, the mission’s principal investigator.

    The feat marks the first time in over 30 years that scientists have been able to collect and begin testing samples of Mars’ soil, he said. NASA’s Viking 1 and 2 tested samples of the Martian soil when they landed in 1976.

    “”Understanding the soil is a major goal of this mission,”” Smith said. “”And the soil is just a bit different than we expected.””

    The soil has presented some sticky situations to mission scientists recently. Over the past week, mission officials have reported experiencing minor problems getting samples into their instruments, because the soil had a tendency to stick in clumps too large to be successfully delivered to the equipment on ‘Phoenix.’

    Smith said that samples have been successfully delivered to the Lander’s optical microscope, which will look at the structure of the soil. The mission’s Thermal and Evolved Gas Analyzer (TEGA) will also analyze the soil’s chemical composition.

    Mission scientist Tom Pike said the expedition’s optical microscope had already returned the highest resolution images of Martian soil ever seen.

    “”I’m absolutely gobsmacked,”” Pike said of the images’ high resolution.

    Images sent back to Earth from ‘Phoenix’ show nearly 1,000 separate soil particles smaller than the diameter of a human hair. The soil at the landing site clumps together even down its very smallest scales, he said.

    “”It’s very cohesive material,”” Pike said.

    Test results of the soil from TEGA will be released late this week, Smith said.

    The ‘Phoenix’ team also released new color images of the Lander’s surroundings taken by the craft’s Surface Stereoscopic Imager (SSI). Mark Lemmon, who leads the SSI team, said that his crew is working toward providing a 360-degree view of the Martian surface. The team will produce a full panorama in the next two weeks.

    Exceeding expectations, ‘Phoenix’ is over-performing in terms of information sent back to Earth, Smith said.

    “”We’re getting so much data back that we’re getting twice the data volume that we’ve been told to expect,”” he said.

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