Martian soil investigated by lander

The footprint-like impression in this image was made not by a Martian, but by the Robotic Arm scoop of NASA's Phoenix lander, currently on Mars.

The Lander reached out and touched the Martian soil for the first time on Saturday, May 31, the first step in a series of actions expected to bring soil and ice to the lander's experiments.

The lander's Robotic Arm scoop left an impression that resembles a footprint at a place provisionally named Yeti in the King of Hearts target zone, away from the area that eventually will be sampled for evaluation. The impression in the soil was captured by Phoenix's Stereo Surface Imager.

"This first touch allows us to utilise the Robotic Arm accurately. We are in a good situation for the upcoming sample acquisition and transfer," said David Spencer, Phoenix's surface mission manager from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Phoenix's Robotic Arm Camera also took a number of images of the "Snow Queen" site of what is believed to be exposed ice under the lander.

"What we see in the images is in agreement with the notion that it may be ice and we suspect we will see the same thing in the digging area," said Uwe Keller, Robotic Arm Camera lead scientist from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany.

Mars, a cold desert planet with no liquid water on its surface, has water ice that lurks just below ground level in its arctic region. Discoveries made by the Mars Odyssey Orbiter in 2002 show large amounts of subsurface water ice in the northern arctic plain. Phoenix will use its robotic arm to dig through the protective top soil layer to the water ice below and ultimately, to bring both soil and water ice to the lander platform for sophisticated scientific analysis.

The Phoenix Mission is led by the University of Arizona, Tucson, on behalf of NASA. Project management of the mission is by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. Spacecraft development is by Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver.

Image: Marks made on the surface of Mars by the Phoenix lander [NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona]

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