Phoenix Lander in pitched battle with Martian soil



Thanks to an announcement of some important kind of shiny phone handset, it seems that there’s little earth-bound technology news left to report. We expect a good three days before we can stop ourselves from spontaneously typing ‘IPHONE!’, ‘3G!’ or wasting the whole opening paragraphs of our posts providing a connection between utterly unrelated news and said handset announcement. We appreciate your patience.

Thank God, NASA scientists had the forethought to send the Phoenix Mars probe on its perilous mission so that it could beam back useful information at this crucial time. Right now, the hardy little critter is holed up on the surface of the red planet, attempting to secure a soil sample in its Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer (TEGA). Unfortunately a blockage is preventing the instruments from getting any readings.

The TEGA is designed to heat up soil samples inside eight tiny ovens. When heat is applied, any resultant vapours can be analysed and reveal more about what is contained in the soil. It is hoped that this may provide evidence of organic chemicals or other potential signs of life.

Right now, Arizona scientists can’t get any samples into the TEGA. However, footage from the probe’s cameras reveals that there is a heap of soil on top of the device. It seems that something is causing the sandy substance to clump together and not make it through the fine sieve into the oven.

The theory that this is evidence of an assault from a microscopic race of alien parasites, which are attempting to open a sub-space portal and attack the planet Earth, has been rejected under the suspicion that I get a little too excited about spacey things. It is instead believed that heat from the probe’s landing thrusters might have melted ice in the surrounding soil, turning it to mud. Or that salts are binding the material together.

Either way it isn’t getting through and although mission controllers have tried to dislodge the blocked sample with the TEGA’s attached vibrator, so far they’ve had no luck. Don’t rule out anything yet though – it just takes a while to organise all this with a robot 35 million miles away.

(via AHN)

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