I hope I'm not hte only one, but this story actually makes me quite happy. It's nice to hear some good news for a change. Go NASA. Please El Reg, keep us informed on what, if anything, they find.
The Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer (TEGA) aboard NASA's Phoenix Mars lander finally has an ovenful of dirt for anlaysis, following various attempts to shake the "clumpy" Martian soil into the instrument. The "high-temperature furnace and mass spectrometer" TEGA packs eight miniature ovens, each protected by a filter screen …
That's what was sticking the the dirt together! Once it had been sitting on the screen for a week, it dried out, and fell inside the oven. Or, more likely, the ice particles sublimated away in the wind.
If this is the case, they might have problems detecting water or ice, as it would always be gone by the time the sample was in the oven :)
"There's something very unusual about this soil, (from a place on Mars we've never been before). We're interested in learning what sort of chemical and mineral activity has caused the particles to clump and stick together."
Just come round to my house and try digging my flowerbeds, you'll learn all about it.
Out in the distance "Welcome to Mars".
It is really what they should have put on one of the footpads before launch. Would have made a welcome conversation piece.
Sorry, I'm not AManFromMars, but it WOULD be interesting to go there. The big problem is the flight time is a bit long, and with the airlines charging for bags these days, it could be expensive in those "add-ons". The fuel one being the worst.
They have made a VERY big mistake. They never seemed to have thought they would sit on a thin surface of dust covering a frozen ocean. If you have ever had any experience of freeze drying, you would know that ice sublimates. It freely turns from a solid to a mixture of gas molecules and water vapour. So the surface they are standing on is a sort of mush ice mixed with dust. When they dig into it, it is thus not unlike mud, (as a previous post has also alluded).
Remember, they are not in a high vacuum as with a freeze dryer, they are in a low pressure atmosphere which is still sufficient to create dust devils.
They needed to be able to remove the screens, but I would guess, they cannot. Thus always, the mush ice will inevitably have to dry out before it arrives in the oven. So someone came up with the idea that all they would want to observe was tiny particles and all the others, sic! never once took their device into a chamber with a frozen tank of water covered with a thin layer of dust that had been standing for say, at least a year to gain the full effect and asked the simple question; what if?
Now we will have to wait for Pioneer 2, what, perhaps another 10 years, before we get true readings of the water content of the material BEFORE entry to the oven. If they had just one single artisan, rather than all academics on their team, they might have spotted their simple, but disastrous mistake.
So the FIRST thing that must be done is to simulate the REAL dust environment on the surface under the spacecraft. (Which is now NOT a space craft, but an Earth ship on a dust covered frozen Martian ocean. And, remember, now that the ship is on the surface, it will act as a sun trap and heat the surface under the ship. So any possible solution must come ASAP, before the depth of the dust level increases as the increased heat levels sublime more of the under surface ice. But is so sad they never thought about the implications of a frozen surface covered with a thin layer of dust. They must have assumed that the surface was all dust and they would only find a very slight indication of water. If only they had assumed all scenarios, they would have had at least one oven without a screen.
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