Phoenix has a bun (ok, soil) in the oven

Some exciting news from Phoenix: the soil that was too clumpy to make it into the TEGA (Thermal and Evolved-gas Analyzer) oven, even after vibrating the screen over 3 days, has made it through the screen, and the oven is full!

It’s a little unclear when the soil fell through, and whether it was caused by the final round of vibration or because of some material change in the soil. This begs the question: Have the composition or physical properties of the soil changed while it sat on the screen? Will we find something different when we compare the compositions of soil from the first try with soil from future “sprinkles”? Stay tuned…

In the meantime, here’s a picture of the trenches the soil in the oven came from – note the mysterious white material!

Trenches dug by Phoenix

Future ovens will be filled by sprinkling the soil on the screens, as opposed to dumping it all over the place. The Phoenix team has been practicing this, as shown by this animation:

Animation of Phoenix sprinkling soil

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2 Comments on “Phoenix has a bun (ok, soil) in the oven”

  1. Becky Says:

    I just found your site a few days ago and have been checking it every day! This is really awesome! You are very accurate, but yet speak in Layman’s Terms. It makes it much easier for us amateurs to comprehend everything!

    Anyway – Thanks for doing this!

  2. Covalt Says:

    ‘Dandruff’ could contaminate Phoenix landing site

    Published online 6 June 2008 | Nature | doi:10.1038/news.2008.878

    Dead microbes and skin flakes from Earthlings may scupper the
    search for organic molecules.

    Eric Hand

    The most detailed photo ever of martian dust – but Phoenix may
    have less success in finding organic molecules.NASA/JPL-Caltech/
    Univ. Arizona

    Could Phoenix’s search for organic molecules on Mars be foiled
    by dandruff from Earth? After a successful landing last month on
    the planet’s northern plains, the NASA spacecraft is busily scraping
    through the martian dirt. Next week, the mission team plans to
    use one of its premier instruments, the Thermal and Evolved Gas
    Analyzer (TEGA), to test its first baked soil sample for molecules
    containing carbon.

    The search for the organic building blocks of life has been a
    major selling point for Phoenix; many press accounts have
    eagerly, yet mistakenly, foreshortened the mission’s raison
    d’etre to ‘the search for life’. Yet some mission scientists say
    that it is the science goal least likely to succeed, partly because
    TEGA is so sensitive that it may end up sensing only contamination
    from Earth.

    “We will see organics, for sure, because we’re bringing them,”
    says Aaron Zent, a mission scientist from NASA’s Ames Research
    Center in California. Likely contaminants include skin flakes,
    dead microbes and volatile lubricants. “The problem with an
    instrument so sensitive is all you detect is your own schmutz,”
    says Zent.

    Full article here:

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