September 10, 2008

Mars Lander Set to Run Last of Experiments

The next soil sample the U.S. space agency's Phoenix Mars Lander obtains will go to the fourth of its four wet chemistry laboratory cells.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration said the source for that sample will be the "Snow White" trench on the eastern end of the area reachable with Phoenix's robotic arm. In July that trench yielded a sample that was found to contain water ice.

The wet chemistry laboratory mixes Martian soil with purified water from Earth as part of the process of identifying soluble nutrients and other chemicals in the soil. Scientists have determined the soil beside the lander is alkaline and contains magnesium, sodium, potassium, chloride and perchlorate.

The Phoenix team plans to fill the last of the lander's single-use lab ovens without waiting for the analysis of each sample to be completed before delivering the next. The strategy is to get as many samples as possible while there is enough energy available for digging.

The northern Martian summer is nearly half over and scientists say the amount of sunshine reaching Phoenix's solar panels is declining daily.

The Phoenix mission is managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.