August 14, 2008
Mars Lander Takes an Image of Martian Dust
The U.S. space agency says its Phoenix Mars Lander has used an atomic force microscope to take the first-ever image of a single particle of Mars' dust.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration scientists said the rounded particle has a diameter of about one micrometer, or one millionth of a meter, and is a speck of the dust that colors the Martian sky pink and its soil a distinctive red.
"This is the first picture of a clay-sized particle on Mars, and the size agrees with predictions from the colors seen in sunsets on the Red Planet," said Phoenix Lander co-investigator Urs Staufer of the University of Neuchatel, Switzerland, who leads a Swiss consortium that made the microscope.
NASA said the atomic force microscope can detail shapes of particles as small as about 100 nanometers, which is about 100 times greater magnification than seen with Phoenix's optical microscope.
Mars' ultra-fine dust is the medium that actively links gases in the Martian atmosphere to processes in Martian soil, so it is critically important to understanding that planet's environment, the researchers said.