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This section presents news from the Mars space probe Phoenix. The NASA probe reached Mars on May 25, 2008.

Right:: Phoenix's footpad on Mars.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

Phoenix

See also:

Click! The "Mars" section of this site.
Click! Latest Mars exobiology news.
Click! Latest news from the Mars Global Surveyor probe.
Click! Latest news from the Mars Odyssey probe.
Click! Latest news from the Beagle 2 / Mars Express probes.
Click! Latest news from the Mars Spirit and Oppoprtunity probes.

NEWS FROM THE PHOENIX MARS PROBE:

07.06.2009NASA Phoenix scientific results publications.
11.27.2008Phoenix probe on Mars: mission accomplished.
08.03.2008"Aviation Week" journalist spreads rumors of forthcoming new Mars discovery announcement.
08.01.2008It is indeed water ice.
06.26.2008Phoenix returns treasure trove.
06.20.2008White patches were indeed water ice.
06.14.2008First samples in oven.
03.13.2008Image of the ground.
05.27.2008Phoenix second day on Mars.
05.26.2008First alleged mysteries from Phoenix.
05.25.2008Phoenix lands on Mars.

PHOENIX SCIENTIFIC RESULTS ARE PUBLISHED:

Four papers in this week's edition of the journal Science, are the first in a major peer-reviewed professional scientific journal about the interpretations of data returned by the NASA lander Phoenix during its five months of operation in Mars' arctic.

The remarkable results are:

Favorable chemistry and episodes with thin films of liquid water during ongoing, long-term climate cycles may sometimes make the area where NASA's Phoenix Mars mission landed last year a favorable environment for microbes.

Phoenix not only found water ice, as expected, also, the observed soil chemistry and minerals lead the scientists to propose that the landing site had a wetter and warmer climate in the recent past, i.e. the last few million years, and could again in the future, said Phoenix Principal Investigator Peter Smith of the University of Arizona, Tucson.

The corresponding paper about Phoenix water studies, for which Peter Smith is the lead author, has 36 coauthors from six nations. The paper concludes that the evidence for water and potential nutrients "implies that this region could have previously met the criteria for habitability" during portions of continuing climate cycles".

Perchlorate, a multi-talented chemical was also found in the Martian soil. Michael Hecht of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, with 10 coauthors, discussed Phoenix's soluble-chemistry findings. He said: "The study of Mars is in transition from a follow-the-water stage to a follow-the-chemistry stage. With perchlorate, for example, we see links to atmospheric humidity, soil moisture, a possible energy source for microbes, even a possible resource for humans."

Perchlorate strongly attracts water and made up a few tenths of a percent of the composition in all three soil samples analyzed by Phoenix's wet chemistry laboratory. Perchlorates could pull humidity from the Martian air, and at higher concentrations, it might combine with water as a brine that stays liquid at Martian surface temperatures. Some microbes on Earth use perchlorate as food, and human explorers might find it useful as rocket fuel or for generating oxygen.

Phoenix also found ice clouds and precipitation that were more Earth-like than scientists anticipated. The lander's Canadian laser instrument for studying the atmosphere detected snow falling from clouds. A paper by Jim Whiteway of York University, Toronto, and 22 coauthors say that further into winter than Phoenix operated, this precipitation would result in a seasonal buildup of water ice on and in the ground. He said that "we did not know how the water vapor moved from the atmosphere to ice on the ground. Now we know that it does snow, and that this is part of the hydrological cycle on Mars."

Evidence that water ice in the area sometimes thaws enough to moisten the soil comes from finding calcium carbonate in soil heated in the lander's analytic ovens or mixed with acid in the wet chemistry laboratory. William Boynton, from the The University of Arizona, and 13 coauthors report that the amount of calcium carbonate "is most consistent with formation in the past by the interaction of atmospheric carbon dioxide with liquid films of water on particle surfaces."

PHOENIX ON MARS: "MISSION ACCOMPLISHED":

November 27, 2008: Mars, in its 2-year orbit, has now slipped far and behind the sun, so that signals from Mars-orbiting spacecraft are blocked until mid-December. Most Mars probes will be reachable again after mid-December 2008, but for the Phoenix lander, surface science operations are over, after 151 "sols", or martian days, or 90 Earth days.

25.000 pictures were taken, including microscope images, weather data and other data were collected. Near the end of the surface mission, scientists saw for the first time water as snow falling to the surface Mars and frost on the ground, much to their surprise.

Running daily surface science operations was a full-time job for the team, so that mission scientists had no time to do in-depth related work or analysis of the incoming data. This will now start and formal reports will be in forthcoming scientific journals.

"AVIATION WEEK" JOURNALIST SPREADS RUMORS OF FORTHCOMING NEW MARS DISCOVERY ANNOUNCEMENT:

Craig Covault noted on August 2, 2008, in Aviation Week & Space Technology that the White House was alerted to some new finding regarding the potential for life from the Microscopy, Electrochemistry, and Conductivity Analyzer (MECA) experiment on the Phoenix Mars lander.

Covault reported that his sources talk of the new finding as "is increasingly compelling as another piece in the puzzle of life."

The new finding was somehow delayed so far because is had to go through peer reviewing process so that a scientific paper and press release can be published, likely through the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and its Science magazine.

As there is no life-detection experiments on board Phoenix, it may indeed be an important new finding relating to the conditions for life or past life on Mars but not life itself.

IT IS INDEED WATER ICE:

NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander has confirmed the existence of water ice on Mars after a sample of the ice was finally delivered to one of the lander's instruments.

The existence of water ice on Mars was already known from satellite imaging and from the effect of water erosion on the Martian landscape, but this is the first time water is directly detected by direct analysis of a ground sample. Mars has polar caps with huge amounts of ice water like Earth does.

Phoenix's mission was also officially extended for one month beyond its original mission, NASA announced.

NASA: PHOENIX RETURNS TREASURE TROVE:

Phoenix Returns Treasure Trove

06.26.08

"We are awash in chemistry data," said Michael Hecht of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, lead scientist for the Microscopy, Electrochemistry and Conductivity Analyzer, or MECA, instrument on Phoenix. "We're trying to understand what is the chemistry of wet soil on Mars, what's dissolved in it, how acidic or alkaline it is. With the results we received from Phoenix yesterday, we could begin to tell what aspects of the soil might support life."

"This is the first wet-chemical analysis ever done on Mars or any planet, other than Earth," said Phoenix co-investigator Sam Kounaves of Tufts University, science lead for the wet chemistry investigation.

About 80 percent of Phoenix's first, two-day wet chemistry experiment is now complete. Phoenix has three more wet-chemistry cells for use later in the mission.

"This soil appears to be a close analog to surface soils found in the upper dry valleys in Antarctica," Kouvanes said. "The alkalinity of the soil at this location is definitely striking. At this specific location, one-inch into the surface layer, the soil is very basic, with a pH of between eight and nine. We also found a variety of components of salts that we haven't had time to analyze and identify yet, but that include magnesium, sodium, potassium and chloride."

"This is more evidence for water because salts are there. We also found a reasonable number of nutrients, or chemicals needed by life as we know it," Kounaves said. "Over time, I've come to the conclusion that the amazing thing about Mars is not that it's an alien world, but that in many aspects, like mineralogy, it's very much like Earth."

Another analytical Phoenix instrument, the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer (TEGA), has baked its first soil sample to 1,000 degrees Celsius (1,800 degrees Fahrenheit). Never before has a soil sample from another world been baked to such high heat.

TEGA scientists have begun analyzing the gases released at a range of temperatures to identify the chemical make-up of soil and ice. Analysis is a complicated, weeks-long process.

But "the scientific data coming out of the instrument have been just spectacular," said Phoenix co-investigator William Boynton of the University of Arizona, lead TEGA scientist.

"At this point, we can say that the soil has clearly interacted with water in the past. We don't know whether that interaction occurred in this particular area in the northern polar region, or whether it might have happened elsewhere and blown up to this area as dust."

Leslie Tamppari, the Phoenix project scientist from JPL, tallied what Phoenix has accomplished during the first 30 Martian days of its mission, and outlined future plans.

The Stereo Surface Imager has by now completed about 55 percent of its three-color, 360-degree panorama of the Phoenix landing site, Tamppari said. Phoenix has analyzed two samples in its optical microscope as well as first samples in both TEGA and the wet chemistry laboratory. Phoenix has been collecting information daily on clouds, dust, winds, temperatures and pressures in the atmosphere, as well as taking first nighttime atmospheric measurements.

Lander cameras confirmed that white chunks exposed during trench digging were frozen water ice because they sublimated, or vaporized, over a few days. The Phoenix robotic arm dug and sampled, and will continue to dig and sample, at the 'Snow White' trench in the center of a polygon in the polygonal terrain.

"We believe this is the best place for creating a profile of the surface from the top down to the anticipated icy layer," Tamppari said. "This is the plan we wanted to do when we proposed the mission many years ago. We wanted a place just like this where we could sample the soil down to the possible ice layer."

The Phoenix mission is led by Peter Smith of The University of Arizona with project management at JPL and development partnership at Lockheed Martin, located in Denver. International contributions come from the Canadian Space Agency; the University of Neuchatel, Switzerland; the universities of Copenhagen and Aarhus, Denmark; Max Planck Institute, Germany; and the Finnish Meteorological Institute. For more information on the Phoenix mission, link to http://www.nasa.gov/phoenix and http://phoenix.lpl.arizona.edu. Media contacts: Guy Webster 818-354-6278 Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
guy.webster@jpl.nasa.gov

Sara Hammond 520-626-1974 University of Arizona, Tucson
shammond@lpl.arizona.edu

J.D. Harrington 202 358-5241
NASA Headquarters
j.d.harrington@nasa.gov

Source: NASA at www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/phoenix/news/phoenix-20080626.html

WHITE PATCHES WERE INDEED WATER ICE:

Phoenix mission scientists reported the white patches uncovered by the robotic arm of the lander must be water ice.

New photographs of a ditch dug four days before revealed that about eight small crumbs of the bright material which was suspected to be water ice or salt had disappeared.

The only explanation is that the bright material was indeed water ice that vaporized when the robotic arm exposed them to the air.

If the crumbs had been salt, they would not have disappeared, if the ice had been made of carbon dioxide, they would not have vaporized.

FIRST SAMPLES IN OVEN:

In the past two days, two instruments on the lander deck, a microscope and a bake-and-sniff analyzer, have begun inspecting soil samples delivered by the scoop on Phoenix's Robotic Arm. The loading of the samples gave cold sweats to the mission scientist, as the soil appeared to clumpy and only a few particles made it through a screen cover on the oven. But a vibrating mechanism was used, sometimes several times a day, and it succesully shook the soil through the screen and into the oven.

The sample includes some larger, black, glassy particles as well as smaller reddish ones.

Tom Pike of Imperial College London, a Phoenix co-investigator working on the lander's Microscopy, Electrochemistry and Conductivity Analyzer, said: "We may be looking at a history of the soil. It appears that original particles of volcanic glass have weathered down to smaller particles with higher concentration of iron."

IMAGE OF THE GROUND:

The color image below was acquired by NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander's Surface Stereo Imager on the 19th day of the mission, June 13, 2008. The image shows a trench after two digs by Phoenix's Robotic Arm. The trench is 22 centimeters wide and 35 centimeters long. At its deepest point, the trench is 7 to 8 centimeters deep.

White material, possibly ice, is located only at the upper portion of the trench, indicating that it is not continuous throughout the excavated site. According to scientists, the trench might be exposing a ledge, or only a portion of a slab, of the white material.

HARD SUBSTRATE, POSSIBLY ICE, UNCOVERED UNDER THE LANDER:

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech//University of Arizona/Max Planck Institute

The Robotic Arm Camera on NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander captured this image underneath the lander on the fifth Martian day, or sol, of the mission. Descent thrusters on the bottom of the lander are visible at the top of the image.

This view from the north side of the lander toward the southern leg shows smooth surfaces cleared from overlying soil by the rocket exhaust during landing. One exposed edge of the underlying material was seen in Sol 4 images, but the newer image reveals a greater extent of it. The abundance of excavated smooth and level surfaces adds evidence to a hypothesis that the underlying material is an ice table covered by a thin blanket of soil.

The bright-looking surface material in the center, where the image is partly overexposed, may not be inherently brighter than the foreground material in shadow.

Text credit: NASA at www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/phoenix/images/press/UnderLanderRACImageSol005_v3.html

PHOENIX 2ND DAY ON MARS:

Orbiter Relays Second-Day Information From NASA Mars Lander
May 27, 2008

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter successfully received information from the Phoenix Mars Lander Tuesday evening and relayed the information to Earth. The relayed transmission included images and other data collected by Phoenix during the mission's second day after landing on Mars.

The UHF radio system used by the orbiter to communicate with the lander had gone into a standby mode earlier Tuesday for a still undetermined cause. This prevented sending Phoenix any new commands from Earth on Tuesday. Instead, the lander carried out a backup set of activity commands that had been sent Monday.

NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter is scheduled for relaying commands to the lander on Wednesday morning.

Source of the above: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/phoenix/release.php?ArticleID=1718

1ST ALLEGED MYSTERIES IN PHOENIX' MISSION:

Some US web users and apparently also scientists found that two whitish things in the distance on the ground of Mars in one of the first received photographs of the Phoenix probe are something weird and mysterious.

One TV bulletin said: "The pictures sent from the Phoenix Lander depicted images of strange phenomena, including a distant white entity unlike anything else on the red planet's surface."

A NASA scientist said NASA is prepared for anything "The new Mars lander is equipped with the ability to communicate with extraterrestrials. Attached to the probe are computer disks that contain messages from Earth, including songs, pictures and poems."

One is without doubt the probe's parachute.

The other is likely a cosmic particle hitting the camera, or a relection on a high albedo rock. NASA scientist will try to verify this.

Raw images from Phoenix are at: http://fawkes4.lpl.arizona.edu/gallery.php

PHOENIX LANDS ON MARS:

The Phoenix NASA probe successfully landed on Mars on May 25, 2008 in the Arctic area, practically exactly in the planned location inside the Vastitas Borealis, a circumpolar flat plain with few rocks. The head of the mission, Barry Goldstein, stated: "I could not have imagined that it goes so perfectly."

One minute of data transmission after the landing of the probe on the ground was already received, confirming the success of the landing.

The Phoenix probe, 5 meters wide and 1.50 meters long, with a weight of 350 kilos and carrying 55 kilos of science instruments, was launched in August 2007 and traveled 679 million kilometers to reach Mars.

The probe will start its 3 months program of probing and analysis of the Martian permafrost to find frozen water, to seek molecules of hydrogen and carbon, and to determine whether life is or was possible there.

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