Stochastic Scribbles
Random musings in a variety of subjects, from science to religion.

Stuck dirt

Despite all the anticipation, the Mars Phoenix Lander has failed to get Martian soil into its laboratory instrument. For some reason, while the robotic arm was able to scoop up some soil and drop it on the laboratory instrument, none of the soil seemed to have passed through the screen which protected unwanted dust from entering. It appears that the soil is more clumpy than expected, so that the standard shaking by the instrument isn’t enough to break up the soil into small enough particles.

Martian soil scooped up by the lander; from NASA

They’re trying to figure out ways to work around the problem, such as breaking up the soil with the robotic arm before scooping it up or alternative ways to shake up the dirt. I just hope that the opening to the laboratory instrument doesn’t get covered by too much excess and cohesive soil such that no further samples could be picked up for analysis. Otherwise, the lander would be a waste that couldn’t accomplish its primary mission, only being able to take pictures of a very small region near the Martian north pole.