June 24, 2008

Phoenix Lander to Analyze Martian Soil

The U.S. space agency said its Phoenix Mars Lander was ready to conduct a microscopic analysis of Martian soil Thursday -- the 29th day of the mission.

The soil was to undergo examination under the lander's optical microscope, with Phoenix's robotic arm to deliver some of that same scoop of soil for the first wet chemistry experiment on Mars. That experiment is to be conducted later this week.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration scientists made a diagnostic test run Monday that melted ice to water for that experiment. The water is part of the wet chemistry laboratory and comes from Earth.

NASA said the laboratory, not yet used on Mars, is designed to test soil for salts, acidity and other characteristics, much like garden soils are tested on Earth.

The Phoenix mission is led by Peter Smith of the University of Arizona, with project management at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. International contributions come from the Canadian Space Agency; the University of Neuchatel, Switzerland; the universities of Copenhagen and Aarhus, Denmark; the Max Planck Institute in Germany; and the Finnish Meteorological Institute.