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Sticky situation for Phoenix
BY DR EMILY BALDWIN
ASTRONOMY NOW

Posted: July 29, 2008

After two failed attempts to deliver a sample of icy soil to Phoenix’s TEGA oven over the weekend, it’s back to the drawing board to figure out a way to get this surprisingly sticky soil out of the robotic scoop.

The stubborn Martian soil remains stuck in Phoenix's robotic arm scoop. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Max Planck Institute.

"It has really been a science experiment just learning how to interact with the icy soil on Mars, how it reacts with the scoop, its stickiness, whether it's better to have it in the shade or the sunlight," says Phoenix Principal Investigator Peter Smith of the University of Arizona.

The team tried two methods over the weekend to pick up and deliver a sample of icy soil to one of Phoenix’s laboratory ovens, but in both cases most of the sample stuck firmly inside the lander's inverted scoop. In the second attempt, Phoenix was instructed to leave the scoop upside down for longer and to vibrate it for longer, and although images showed a small amount of soil reached the open oven doors, not enough was received to initiate analysis of the soil’s composition.

False colour image of the oven doors after the failed soil delivery attempts this weekend. The soil appears as a red-brown colour and it can be seen that hardly any soil has reached the far, open, oven for analysis and that some of soil is lying at the bottom of the adjacent doors. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Texas A&M University.

The samples are believed to contain water ice mixed in with the soil so it is with much eagerness that the Phoenix team are continuing to test out different delivery techniques while the lander continues with other planned studies of the soil and the atmosphere.

"While we continue with determining the best way to get an icy sample, we intend to proceed with analysing dry samples that we already know how to deliver,” says Smith.

 

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Jul   22 Phoenix in 24-hour monitoring assignment read more

Jul   17 Phoenix rasps frozen layer... read more

Jul   11 First success with Phoenix soil probe... read more

Jul   10 Phoenix struggling with icy payload read more

Jul   03 Next Phoenix bake could be last read more

Jun  30 Phoenix soil could support life read more

Jun  23 Frozen water confirmed on Mars read more

Jun  19 Bright chunks must have been ice read more

Jun  17 First results from Phoenix bakery read more

Jun  12 An oven full of sand read more

Jun  10 Clumpy Martian soil challenges Phoenix read more

Jun  06 Closest view ever of Mars sand read more

Jun  03 Phoenix scoops up Martian soil read more

Jun  02 Phoenix sees possible ice read more

May 30 Phoenix flexes robotic arm read more

May 28 HiRISE captures Phoenix descent read more

May 26 Spectacular new colour view of Mars read more

May 23 Phoenix prepares for Mars landing read more

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