Phoenix has now been on Mars for 21 sols (I guess that’s still 3 Mars weeks right?!) and it’s great to see the probe doing so well. At first it sent back some brilliant pictures (and even seems to have spotted ice underneath itself!) and now is sending back the real science – the results from the microscope, weather station and hopefully soon some results from TEGA (Thermal and Evolved Gas Analyzer), which has a little set of ovens used to bake and study the martian soil. Originally there was a snag in that clumpy, cohesive soil clogged up the sieve which is used to weed out the larger particles from going into the oven (where they might block it). At one point it looked as if that oven would be blocked. Thankfully though the Phoenix team used a spinning mechanism on the TEGA instrument to vibrate the sieve and after a few days of shaking and vibrating the oven canister was suddenly filled with batch of martian soil. The team will be using a different method of sprinkling the soil (see the animation below) into the TEGA ovens in future, to assure that this doesn’t happen again.
One particular thing that has struck me about this mission, so far, is how well it has been covered in new media outlets. If you have already seen it Mars Phoenix has a Twitter feed here and it even has several blogs and a (iTunes) podcast here. Oh yes and NASA and the Phoenix team sure know how to make an outreach movie! Have a look at the video below to recall those few minutes of sheer excitement (and a similar amount of nerves) that we all shared a few weeks ago.