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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    UA Lander pulls all-nighter

    In a busy week on Mars and on Earth, the UA-led Phoenix Lander team met with Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, and the spacecraft itself pulled its first all-nighter on the planet.

    The governor visited the mission’s Science Operations Center at the UA Monday. It was the first time Napolitano had visited the SOC since ‘Phoenix’ landed on May 25.

    “”I think she had an out-of-this-world experience,”” said Peter Smith in a statement released Tuesday. Smith leads the mission as its principal investigator.

    ‘Phoenix’ itself stayed up way past its bedtime this week, working throughout Sunday night and into early Tuesday morning to complete 33 hours of work.

    The all-nighter was planned to coordinate with observations made by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

    ‘Phoenix’ used its weather station, stereo camera and conductivity probe to monitor changes in the lower atmosphere and on the planet’s surface while the orbiter studied the atmosphere and ground from above.

    ‘Phoenix’ usually turns off at night and works during the day. This was the first time that the team kept ‘Phoenix’ running throughout a Martian night, mission officials said.

    ‘Phoenix’ used its thermal and conductivity probe, which is like a fork stuck into the ground, to monitor changes in the soil throughout the day. Mission scientists said that they were partly looking to see if water in the soil changes from ice to vapor and enters the atmosphere from the soil itself.

    “”We are looking for patterns of movement and phase change,”” said Michael Hecht, whose science team is in charge of the probe. “”The probe is working great. We see some changes in the soil – electrical properties which may be related to water, but we’re still chewing on the data.””

    In other Martian news, mission officials said that ‘Phoenix’ continues to test techniques for getting a sample of icy soil to its Thermal and Evolved Gas Analyzer. The instrument uses small ovens to “”bake”” samples and “”sniff”” any gases that are released from them, allowing scientists to analyze their composition.

    Over the past week, the ‘Phoenix’ team has been testing methods to get TEGA a perfect sample using a motorized rasp attached to the craft’s robotic arm. Mission officials announced yesterday that they are close to delivering that sample, and that the next time ‘Phoenix’ uses its rasp, it will be to collect icy soil for TEGA.

    TEGA is waiting with open arms to receive that sample. Images returned from Phoenix showed that the instrument successfully opened both doors from the oven chosen to receive the next sample.

    Three-dimensional images of the Martian surface have also been released on the Phoenix Mission Web site.

    The images were taken from the left and right “”eyes”” of the craft’s Surface Stereo Imager, so you will need a pair of red-blue 3-D glasses to view them. The images were taken throughout the month of June. To view the images, visit phoenix.lpl.arizona.edu.

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