Tiny ovens are expected to begin testing soil samples on the Martian North Pole this week. In its seventh day on Mars, the Phoenix Mars Lander successfully deployed its shovel and dug a sample of dirt. A close-up, enhanced photo of the sample showed traces of white materials, a promising development for the expedition.
"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," says Ray Arvidson of Washington University in St. Louis, Phoenix co-investigator for the robotic arm.
The shovel deployment came later than expected, heightening tension at missions headquarters at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA. There were fears a plastic casing around the shovel had been damaged in the landing. But the shovel did eventually successfully deploy.
Instruments on board have been tested since the vehicle landed May 25. There was a glitch with the Thermal and Evolved Gas Analyzer. Tests on Thursday, May 29 showed electrical behavior consistent with an intermittent short circuit in the spectrometer portion of TEGA. The mass spectrometer will be used to examine vapors given off by heat from the soil samples. "We have developed a strategy to gain a better understanding of this behavior, and we have identified workarounds for some of the possibilities," says William Boynton of the University of Arizona, Tucson, lead scientist for the instrument.