Phoenix on Ice. Maybe

Don’t Get Your Hopes Up Yet.

Ice-Nine From MarsThere’s quite a bit of analysis that needs too be done, but yes, there’s a chance, maybe even a good one, that Phoenix is sitting on exposed ice and has already photographed it.

I’ll caution that the automatic contrast stretch applied to raw images may make something that’s simply lighter than its surroundings look bright white in the raws when it’s actually just light brown, but still…this, as they say, looks like a duck and quacks like a duck. I can’t wait to hear what the science team has to say about this, whether they’ll be abandoning the usual scientist’s caution and proclaiming: “Look! I told you so! There’s ice right under the surface!”

Emily is being cautiously optimistic. Here’s what NASA has to say.

Scientists have discovered what may be ice that was exposed when soil was blown away as NASA’s Phoenix spacecraft landed on Mars last Sunday, May 25. The possible ice appears in an image the robotic arm camera took underneath the lander, near a footpad.

“We could very well be seeing rock, or we could be seeing exposed ice in the retrorocket blast zone,” said Ray Arvidson of Washington University, St. Louis, Mo., co-investigator for the robotic arm. “We’ll test the two ideas by getting more data, including color data, from the robotic arm camera. We think that if the hard features are ice, they will become brighter because atmospheric water vapor will collect as new frost on the ice.

“Full confirmation of what we’re seeing will come when we excavate and analyze layers in the nearby workspace,” Arvidson said.

Very nice, indeed! My only question is, if they’ve found ice already, what will NASA do with the remaining three months of the mission, hum?

The mission is going flawlessly – almost. Emily reports that a minor glitch aboard Phoenix has indeed occurred.

One of the instrument teams, for the Thermal and Evolved Gas Analyzer or TEGA, is working on an anomaly: TEGA head William Boynton reported that it looks like they have an intermittent short circuit in one part of their instrument, the ion source. He said, “We are working on some diagnostic patches to send up in the next few days. We are optimistic that we have some workarounds that will allow us to operate the instrument with nearly the full capabilities.” TEGA was probably going to be the first instrument to receive a soil sample, but they probably won’t want to touch any soil until they’ve figured out how to work around the short circuit, so it appears that the Microscopy, Electrochemistry, and Conductivity Analyzer (MECA) is now going to get the first chance at a sample.

Explore posts in the same categories: Astronomy, Science, Space

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