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Phoenix Digs a New Trench on Mars

June 18, 2008

NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander began digging in an area called “Wonderland” early Tuesday, taking its first scoop of soil from a polygonal surface feature within the “national park” region that mission scientists have been preserving for science.

The lander’s Robotic Arm created the new test trench called “Snow White” on June 17, the 22nd Martian day, or sol, after the Phoenix spacecraft landed on May 25. Newly planned science activities will resume no earlier than Sol 24 as engineers look into how the spacecraft is handling larger than expected amounts of data.

During Tuesday’s dig, the arm didn’t reach the hard white material, possibly ice, that Phoenix exposed previously in the first trench it dug into the Martian soil.

That’s just what scientists both expected and wanted. The Snow White trench is near the center of a relatively flat hummock, or polygon, named “Cheshire Cat,” where scientists predict there will be more soil layers or thicker soil above possible white material.

The Snow White trench is about two centimeters deep (about three-quarters of an inch) and 30 centimeters (about a foot) long. The Phoenix team plans at least one more day of digging deeper into the Snow White trench.

They will study soil structure in the Snow White trench to decide at what depths they will collect samples from a future trench planned for the center of the polygon.

Meanwhile, the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer (TEGA) instrument continues its ongoing experiment in the first of its eight ovens.

TEGA has eight separate tiny ovens to bake and sniff the soil to look for volatile ingredients, such as water. The baking is performed at three different temperature ranges.

The Phoenix mission is led by Peter Smith of the University of Arizona with project management at JPL and development partnership at Lockheed Martin, located in Denver. International contributions come from the Canadian Space Agency; the University of Neuchatel, Switzerland; the universities of Copenhagen and Aarhus, Denmark; Max Planck Institute, Germany; and the Finnish Meteorological Institute.

Upper Image Caption: Looking North from Phoenix –This series of images, taken by NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander’s Surface Stereo Imager, has been combined into a panoramic view looking north from the lander.

On the Net:

For more about Phoenix, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/phoenix and http://phoenix.lpl.arizona.edu.


Phoenix Digs a New Trench on Mars


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