Dust grains as small as one-tenth the thickness of a human hair have been imaged by NASA’s Phoenix Lander, the greatest resolution ever returned from another planet.
"We have images showing the diversity of mineralogy on Mars at a scale that is unprecedented in planetary exploration," says Michael Hecht of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena.
This mosaic of four side-by-side microscope images, including one a color composite, was acquired by the Optical Microscope, a part of the Microscopy, Electrochemistry, and Conductivity Analyser (MECA) instrument suite. The image shows a 3 millimetre diametre silicone target after it has been exposed to dust kicked up by the landing. The silicone substrate provides a sticky surface for holding the particles to be examined by the microscope. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona.
The Lander’s Optical Microscope instrument took images of particles that had fallen onto a sticky, exposed silicone substrate on the spacecraft during the landing phase and over subsequent days. Some of the particles may have come from inside the spacecraft during the forceful events of landing, but many match expectations for Martian particles, showing a range of shapes and colours.
"It's a first quick look," says 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 characterisation of the Optical Microscope. All the tools are working well."
"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," he adds.
Meanwhile, Phoenix received commands yesterday to collect its first soil sample to be delivered to a laboratory instrument on the lander deck. The experiment will take several days to complete and process the results.
Jun 3 Phoenix scoops up Martian soil read more
Jun 2 Phoenix sees possible ice read more
May 30 Phoenix flexes robotic arm read more
May 28 HiRISE captures Phoenix descent read more
May 26 Spectacular new colour view of Mars read more
May 23 Phoenix prepares for Mars landing read more
The Universe under one roof. European AstroFest returns to London on February 7 & 8, 2014. The UK's favourite astronomy conference and exhibition. Visit the official website site for more details.
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