Phoenix’s robotic arm has scooped up its first mouthful of Martian soil, mission scientists announced today. In a test “dig and dump” area to the west of the “National Parks” that are off limits for now, the robotic arm easily slid into the soil. The color picture here, taken with the LEDs of the robotic arm camera, gives a good sense of the crumbly, crusty overburden that the team will be digging through to get to the ice that they’re pretty sure lurks just below.
In fact, they might have reached it already. If you look really carefully at the picture, a quarter of the way from the right, you can see what appears to be filigrees of frost. Robotic arm lead Ray Arvidson, of Washington University in St. Louis, said the white stuff could also be a water-borne magnesium sulfate salt.
In other news, PI Peter Smith said that a back up filament — used to ionize the gases coming off baked soil samples — should work as well as the primary filament, which is suffering from an electrical short circuit. Smith said the team plans to dump their first soil samples into the one of the ovens either tomorrow or the next day.
Image: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona