After several attempts, Phoenix has finally succeeded in filling one of its ovens with Martian soil, ready to sniff out and assess its ingredients, such as water.
"We have an oven full," says Phoenix co-investigator Bill Boynton of the University of Arizona. "It took 10 seconds to fill the oven. The ground moved."
Soil from the right trench, "Baby Bear", was successfully delivered to the TEGA instrument after several day's attempts. The left hand trench, "Dodo", was dug as a test. Each trench is about nine centimetres wide. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Texas A&M University.
The lander's Robotic Arm delivered a partial scoopful of clumpy soil from a trench informally called "Baby Bear" to the number 4 oven on the Thermal and Evolved Gas Analyser instrument (TEGA) last Friday, 12 days after landing. It took a nail biting several days of trying to shake the soil through the screen covers, which are designed to prevent larger bits of soil from clogging the narrow port to each oven, so that only fine particles fill the oven cavity. Each TEGA chute also has a whirligig mechanism that vibrates the screen to help shake small particles through.
Phoenix scientists speculated that the oven might have suddenly filled because of the cumulative effects of all the vibrating, or because of changes in the soil's cohesiveness as it sat for days on the top of the screen.
"There's something very unusual about this soil, from a place on Mars we've never been before," says Phoenix Principal Investigator Peter Smith of the University of Arizona. "We're interested in learning what sort of chemical and mineral activity has caused the particles to clump and stick together."
Plans prepared by the Phoenix team for the lander's activities today include sprinkling Martian soil on the delivery port for the spacecraft's Optical Microscope and taking additional portions of a high-resolution colour panorama of the lander's surroundings.
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