Scooping Mars

This image from the Phoenix Mars Lander’s Robotic Arm Camera shows material from the martian surface captured by the Robotic Arm scoop during its first test dig and dump on the seventh martian day of the mission, or Sol 7 (June 1, 2008). The test sample shown was taken from the digging area informally known as "Knave of Hearts." The white patches on the right side of the image could possibly be ice or salts that precipitated into the soil. Scientists also speculate that this white material is probably the same material seen in previous images from under the lander in which an upper surface of a possible ice table was observed. The color for this image was acquired by illuminating the RA scoop with a set of red, green, and blue light-emitting diodes (LEDs). Click image for larger view.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Max Planck Institute.

One week after landing on far-northern Mars, NASA Phoenix spacecraft lifted its first scoop of martian soil as a test of the lander’s Robotic Arm.

The practice scoop was emptied onto a designated dump area on the ground after the Robotic Arm Camera photographed the soil inside the scoop. The Phoenix team plans to have the arm deliver its next scoopful, later this week, to an instrument that heats and sniffs the sample to identify ingredients.

A glint of bright material appears in the scooped up soil and in the hole from which it came. "That bright material might be ice or salt. We’re eager to do testing of the next three surface samples collected nearby to learn more about it," said Ray Arvidson of Washington University in St. Louis, Phoenix co-investigator for the Robotic Arm.

The camera on the arm examined the lander’s first scoop of martian soil. "The camera has its own red, green and blue lights, and we combine separate images taken with different illumination to create color images," said the University of Arizona’s Pat Woida, senior engineer on the Phoenix team.

The lander’s Robotic Arm scoop had reached out and touched the martian soil for the first time on Saturday, May 31, the first step in a series of actions expected to bring soil and ice to the lander’s experiments. The scoop left an impression that resembles a footprint at a place provisionally named Yeti in the King of Hearts target zone, away from the area that eventually will be sampled for evaluation. Features and locations around the Phoenix lander are being named for fairy tale and mythological characters.


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