Highest Resolution View Ever From Mars Comes From NASA Lander
TUCSON, Ariz. -- A microscope on NASA's Mars Phoenix Lander has taken
images of dust and sand particles with the greatest resolution ever
returned from another planet.
The mission's Optical Microscope observed particles that had fallen
onto an exposed surface, revealing grains as small as one-tenth the
diameter of a human hair.
"We have images showing the diversity of mineralogy on Mars at a
scale that is unprecedented in planetary exploration," said Michael
Hecht of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena. He is the lead
scientist for Phoenix's Microscopy, Electrochemistry and Conductivity
Analyzer (MECA) instrument suite.
Meanwhile, Phoenix received commands Thursday to collect its first
soil sample to be delivered to a laboratory instrument on the lander
deck. Commands for that same activity sent on Wednesday did not reach
Phoenix because the orbiter intended for relaying the transmission,
NASA's Mars Odyssey, had put itself into a safe standby mode shortly
before the commands would have reached Odyssey.
On Wednesday, the lander completed a back-up plan of activities that
had been sent previously, reported JPL's Chris Lewicki, mission manager
for Phoenix surface operations on the lander's 11th Martian day. That
plan included weather monitoring and additional imaging for a
high-resolution color panorama of the site.
The Optical Microscope images were taken June 3 of particles that had
collected on a sticky surface exposed during the Phoenix landing and for
five days after landing. "It's a first quick look," Hecht said. "This
experiment was partly an insurance policy for something to observe with
the microscope before getting a soil sample delivered by the arm, and
partly a characterization of the Optical Microscope. All the tools are
Some of the particles might have come from inside the spacecraft during
the forceful events of landing, but many match expectations for Martian
particles. "We will be using future observations of soil samples delivered
by the Robotic Arm to confirm whether the types of particles in this
dustfall sample are also seen in samples we can be certain are Martian
in origin," Hecht said.
The particles show a range of shapes and colors.
"You can see the amount of variety there is in what appears otherwise
to be just reddish brown soil," said Tom Pike, Phoenix science team member
from Imperial College London. He noted that one translucent particle
resembles a grain of salt, but that it is too early to say for sure.
Thursday's commands were relayed to Phoenix via NASA's Mars Reconnaissance
Orbiter. The relay radio on that orbiter has been working well in recent days,
after intermittently turning itself off last week. Phoenix will continue to
do relays via Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter until Odyssey returns to full
functioning, and then Phoenix will use both orbiters.
"We are currently bringing the Odyssey spacecraft back into nominal operations,
and we will resume relay service with Odyssey in the next day or two," said
JPL's Chad Edwards, chief telecommunications engineer for the JPL Mars
"We think Odyssey went into safe mode because of a single event that affected
computer memory," Edwards said. "Yesterday's safe mode event appears to be very
similar to events that have caused Odyssey to go into safe mode two or three
times earlier during its long operation around Mars." Odyssey has been
orbiting Mars since 2001.
The Phoenix mission is led by Smith at the University of Arizona with project
management at JPL and development partnership at Lockheed Martin, 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 about Phoenix, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/phoenix and
Media contacts: Guy Webster 818-354-6278
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
Dwayne Brown 202-358-1726
NASA Headquarters, Washington
Sara Hammond 520-626-1974
University of Arizona, Tucson