The test dig made Sunday by the Phoenix Mars Lander’s 8-foot-long robotic arm uncovered bits of bright specks in the soil believed to be ice or salt.
Mission controllers will send instructions to the lander to dump the sample into one of the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer (TEGA) ovens. The TEGA ovens, which are about an inch long and the diameter of a pencil lead, will heat up the soil samples and use a mass spectrometer to detect the gases that come off the samples, which will shed light on some of the materials in the soil, specifically those formed by the process of liquid water.
Phoenix landed in the Martian arctic plains on May 25 for a three-month hunt to study whether the far northern latitudes could support primitive life. Its main task is to excavate trenches in the permafrost in search of evidence of past water and organic compounds considered the chemical building blocks of life. The cost of the mission is $420 million.
Close-up images beamed back by the lander over the weekend revealed that its three legs are resting on what appears to be a slab of ice. It apparently was uncovered when the spacecraft’s thrusters blew away the topsoil.
Lets hope we will find some water also in the soil sample!
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