Washington, June 25 : NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander has repositioned its robotic arm slightly and is now poised to deliver Martian soil to its wet chemistry laboratory.
Sample delivery and analysis is planned today, which happens to be the 30th Martian day of the mission.
Phoenix is to perform the first-ever wet-chemistry experiment on polar Martian terrain, testing the soil for salts, acidity and other characteristics.
The wet chemistry laboratory is part of the suite of tools called the Microscopy, Electrochemistry and Conductivity Analyzer, or MECA.
Stickiness of the soil at the Phoenix site has presented challenges for delivering samples, but also presents scientific opportunities.
"Understanding the soil is a major goal of this mission and the soil is a bit different than we expected," said Phoenix Principal Investigator Peter Smith of the University of Arizona, Tucson. "There could be real discoveries to come as we analyze this soil with our various instruments. We have just the right instruments for the job," he added.
Images from Phoenix's Optical Microscope show nearly 1,000 separate soil particles, down to sizes smaller than one-tenth the diameter of a human hair.
At least four distinct minerals are seen.
The sample includes some larger, black, glassy particles as well as smaller reddish ones.
"We may be looking at a history of the soil," said Pike. "It appears that original particles of volcanic glass have weathered down to smaller particles with higher concentration of iron," he added.
The fine particles in the soil sample closely resemble particles of airborne dust examined earlier by the microscope.
Studying dust on Mars helps scientists understand atmospheric dust on Earth, which is important because dust is a significant factor in global climate change.