Friday, 02 January 2009

NASA Mars Lander: Life on Mars within reach

Aside from actual living things, the ultimate find for planetary science is the stuff that makes life possible: water. That’s exactly what NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander found in July, when its scooping device uncovered clumps of ice buried just beneath the surface of the Martian arctic plain. Guided by a team of scientists at the University of Arizona, the Lockheed Martin–built spacecraft has been up there since May, gathering soil samples using its robotic arm and capturing the highest-resolution images of another planet ever taken. Phoenix analyzes Martian soil and ice samples using the most advanced onboard microscopes, electro-chemistry analyzers, high-temperature furnaces, and mass spectrometers ever sent to another planet, breaking down the raw material of the Red Planet into its most basic components. The lander stores that data on a one-terabyte solid-state hard drive and then beams it—along with meteorological data captured by its weather-monitoring tools—back to Earth. But all things must pass: Any day now, as the Martian winter brings on months of nonstop darkness, the solar-powered lander will shut down, most likely for good.

Source: Popular Science

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