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May 26, 2008

Flat as far as the eye can see

Posted: 10:25 AM ET

Here's one of the first images from Phoenix Mars Lander showing what the landscape looks like on the frozen tundra of Mar's Northern plains.

Source: NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona

It looks pretty much as they thought it would – flat as far as the eye can see. The expectation is that the ground in the area is a mixture of dirt and permafrost, and the scientists say it is as hard a concrete.

Phoenix's robotic arm is outfitted with a little rasp that can be used to drill down into that hard ground to loosen it. A scoop on the end of the arm will then scrape it up and transport it to the science instruments aboard the lander.

One part of the instrument suite involves a set of tiny ovens that will heat up and vaporize some of that icy dirt an analyze the chemical components. Another experiment will mix Martian dirt with water brought from earth in little tea-cup sized reservoirs, this time to study the chemistry of the soil.

The Phoenix team will hold another briefing at 2p Eastern today, where we will hopefully see more pictures and hear more about the plan going forward. If things go as planned, they will start moving the robotic arm as early as Tuesday.

–Kate Tobin, Sr. Producer, CNN Science & Technology

Filed under: Mars • NASA • Space


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Christy   May 26th, 2008 11:51 am ET

Awesome! I never follow NASA news, but this is amazing. Too bad this vessel does not roam around. I can't wait to see what they do find!


fredo   May 26th, 2008 11:54 am ET

I think this is amazing. Wierd but amazing.


fredo   May 26th, 2008 11:55 am ET

weird... I mean really weird. It is on Mars!!! That's only a few hundred million miles away. Dang!!


Jim Samples   May 26th, 2008 12:18 pm ET


Why does NASA always show the public dark (black and white) pictures? Certainly NASA can afford color cameras! Is there something we are not supposed to see? Like the green foliage?


Sylvia   May 26th, 2008 12:40 pm ET

Totally wonderful. And not the least bit boring. Every shred of information we've learned about other planets, moons, comets etc has been absolutely fascinating. For the first time we can start to understand what makes Earth different from other bodies in the solar system, and see what other, different kinds of geology are like.

As a taxpayer I am so proud to have my money spent on this. And compared to the whole government budget it is NOT EVEN a drop in the bucket. Talk about a bargain. One of the few bright spots in what has been a pretty grim presidency, not that HE had anything to do with it–he'd probably axe it if he could get away with it.

I'll be on the edge of my chair as those results start coming in. No matter what it turns out to be–life, no life, ice, no ice–we'll be learning new stuff that we couldn't have imagined before, and advancing knowledge, and you can't put a price on that.


S Callahan   May 26th, 2008 1:08 pm ET

I agree with Sylvia...this is absolutely exciting. As a woman of faith this journey is a confirmation to all the wonders God puts before us.
I am particulary awed with how the land, rocks, ice tundra seem similar to earth. As a woman of faith, it very easy to see how the similarities exist as God created all of it. What separates earth from all others though is the Breath of God over the water (see Genesis 1 and 2) . Why in his infinte wisdom did he chose earth for man? I'm sure as the journey goes on man will begin to understand the answer to the questions. This is exciting and I support my tax dollars to this and more ventures into our vast universe.


Marky   May 26th, 2008 1:10 pm ET

"HE" won't axe it because the technology can be useful in war related scenarios.


Mike Martin   May 26th, 2008 1:16 pm ET

The Martians are always just off camera in these shots laughing at us.... and waiting for signal to invade....


S Callahan   May 26th, 2008 1:17 pm ET

Marty, i think you've mistaken the master scientist for man 🙂


George   May 26th, 2008 1:18 pm ET

not to be negative or undermine this technical achievement; this is truly an amazing engineering accomplishment. while I do realize this is all in the name of human science, however, has NASA considered the consequences of possibly contaminating Mars? although the planet may be "lifeless" from our standards, it is following a natural course of its own evolution. we must keep in mind that what we do today may alter that process to some degree. my question is do we have a right to, or do we have a responsibility not to?


pdykstra   May 26th, 2008 1:22 pm ET

George -

Thanks for asking a good question. You may want to follow this link to learn more about Dr. Cassie Conley, NASA's Planetary Protection Officer (cool job title, isn't it?)

http://quest.nasa.gov/projects/spacewardbound/mojave2007/bios/Cassie_Conley.html

It's her job to make sure the scenario you're suggesting doesn't happen.

Peter Dykstra


George   May 26th, 2008 1:27 pm ET

that's good to know, thanks for the quick response Peter.

bte, that is a cool job title, does Earth have one?

George


Edsel Chromie   May 26th, 2008 1:50 pm ET

It is too bad the NASA research scientists and theorists do not have the same outstanding mental ability of the mechanical and technical staff. While the engineers have provided incredible data about Saturn and Mars, the research scientists still have not been able to definitively explain the anomalies revealed in the past 28 years.


Edsel Chromie   May 26th, 2008 2:14 pm ET

If an explanation of my comment is necessary, it has been 28 years since the Voyager spacecraft first revealed the "spokes" or "fingers" within the rings of Saturn. Still, a few days ago, in a television program titled "Lord Of The Rings", Dr. Carolyn Porco stated, "It is quite complex and it will take us a long time to figure it all out. I don't think we will ever be able to figure all of it out." Unfortunately, the ability of magnetic field energy to stimulate atoms of gases to a glowing, visible state of excitement, is being ignored. The focus on thermodynamics and gravity will never be able to resolve these outstanding visual anomalies.


yousef   May 26th, 2008 5:19 pm ET

this is an amazing engineering achievement
it is an honor to be able to see these photos
thank you
God Bless America

Riyadh Saudi Arabia


agall   May 26th, 2008 5:45 pm ET

It would be really cool if Phoenix finds any primitive forms of life on Mars. The next question if the life is DNA/protein based and building blocks and asymmetry (L-amino acids and D-nucleic acids) are the same. The positive answer would indicate that the life on Earth most likely started somewhere else in the Universe. Personally I believe in this theory. I think the life on Earth would be very unlikely without original seed of a primitive life from the space.


Michael   May 27th, 2008 9:31 am ET

I'm just waiting to see some guy walk up with a lawn chair and a beer and setup in front of the camera 🙂


Sylvia   May 27th, 2008 11:45 am ET

Why do so many people think life couldn't have got started on earth without a seed from space, but somehow they have no problem believing that life could get started in space? What's the diff? If life could start on some other planet or in interstellar dust or whatever, why couldn't it just as well start right here on earth, the one place we actually know for sure it DOES exist? Don't get me wrong, I'm sure it does exist elsewhere too. But it could have started independently in different places, including right here.

But it's great fun watching all the new conspiracy theories germinate as the new NASA images come in. I guess some people just have too much time on their hands and more imagination than sense. C'mon, folks. Isn't it an awful lot more likely that these images actually ARE what NASA says they are?


odysseus   May 27th, 2008 3:48 pm ET

Get out your 3-D glasses – 2-D images also available – Mars is a Beautiful Planet!

We see a lot of barren dust images from the rovers, and this polar lander, but I like checking out a website called marsunearthed.com.

Beautiful 2 and 3-D images – check out some of the valley pictures! Tall spires with many layers of rock, and more. check it out, you will be amazed.


agall   May 28th, 2008 12:26 am ET

Sylvia, I don’t say you are wrong. You maybe right, the life started here on Earth. My point is that there are possibly billion of billions other planets in our Galaxy with proper conditions to jumpstart primitive life forms. The total chance of this very unlikely event is much higher in the Galaxy and certainly elsewhere in the Universe than on our beloved planet. The chance of spreading the life forms from one planet to another is yet another very unlikely event, but multiplied by billion of billions it may become more likely than starting the life here on Earth from scratch.
I don’t expect Mars to give us the final answer. It may actually raise more questions if any life form discovered there.


Sylvia   May 28th, 2008 12:16 pm ET

Agall, who knows. Maybe you are right and life did start on some other planet or in interstellar space. Maybe someday our species will find the answer. I just wonder why some people seem to think it's easier to imagine life orginating somewhere else rather than here. But I certainly don't mean to put that idea on the same level as the people who think NASA is covering up a smokestack on Mars or blue Martian skies, or that the whole landing was faked. I hope for those people's sake, they don't believe any of that either, they're just having fun.


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