In The Field

Phoenix landing: First ice?

ice.jpg

Phoenix scientists may have taken their first glimpse of Martian ice. In order to see underneath the lander — an area likely blasted free of thin soil by the landing retrorockets — missions scientists had to use the camera on the end of the robotic arm. A picture returned last night shows a series of three tabular surfaces (upper middle in the image here). “They could be exposures of ice, or they could be exposures of rock,” said Ray Arvidson, of Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, and lead for the robotic arm, at today’s press conference. “What we have is what you see.”

Today, the robotic arm camera was instructed to get closer to the surface in order to take color pictures.

The bad news today is that the TEGA instrument, which will bake soil and sniff for organic molecules, has a problem with its mass spectrometer. One of the filaments that ionizes the gas coming off the baked soil appears to have a short circuit, says the University of Arizona’s Bill Boynton, lead for the TEGA instrument. But he said that a second filament should still be able to do a decent job analysing samples, if the short circuit remains a problem.

Image: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

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