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Phoenix Mars Lander's Chemistry Lab in a Box
One of four teacup-size beakers on NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander

The wet chemistry laboratory on NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander has four teacup-size beakers. This photograph shows one of them. The laboratory is part of the spacecraft's Microscopy, Electrochemistry and Conductivity Analyzer.

Each beaker will be used only once, for assessing soluble chemicals in a sample of Martian soil by mixing water with the sample to a soupy consistency and keeping it warm enough to remain liquid during the analysis.

On the inner surface of the beaker are 26 sensors, mostly electrodes behind selectively permeable membranes or gels. Some sensors will give information about the acidity or alkalinity of the soil sample. Others will gauge concentrations of such ions as chlorides, bromides, magnesium, calcium and potassium. Comparisons of the concentrations of water-soluble ions in soil samples from different depths below the surface of the landing site may provide clues to the history of the water in the soil.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UA

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