31 May 2008

Phoenix: Good News / Bad News

Posted by Ryan Anderson

Bad news first: it looks like the Thermal Evolved Gas Analyzer (TEGA) instrument may have a short circuit in the mass spectrometer. I really hope they get this cleared up, because as I discussed before, the mass spectrometer is crucial in determining whether there are organic molecules or possibly life in any soil samples.

Now the good news: Images from the robotic arm camera are showing a smooth, light-toned substance underneath the lander. Check it out:

Nobody has committed to anything, but they are working to figure out whether this is ice or rock. Here’s a quote from the Universe Today article:

“We could very well be seeing rock, or we could be seeing exposed ice in the retrorocket blast zone,” said Ray Arvidson of Washington University, St. Louis, Mo., co-investigator for the robotic arm. “We’ll test the two ideas by getting more data, including color data, from the robotic arm camera. We think that if the hard features are ice, they will become brighter because atmospheric water vapor will collect as new frost on the ice.”

How awesome would it be if there was so much ice beneath the surface that the rocket exhaust was enough to expose it? How frustrating would it be if we can’t run it through the mass spectrometer? We’ll have to wait and see how both stories develop…