Washington, June 6 : NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander has returned the highest resolution view ever from the Red Planet, with the images of dust and sand particles taken by the probe's microscope.
The Phoenix touched down on the surface of Mars on May 26.
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.
The Optical Microscope images were taken of particles that had collected on a sticky surface exposed during the Phoenix landing and for five days after landing.
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.
"It's a first quick look," said Hecht. "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 working well," he added.
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," said Hecht.