Clumpy Soil on Mars Tests Scientists' Skill

Researchers try "dribbling" dirt into lander's tiny ovens
By Dustin Lushing,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 10, 2008 3:37 PM CDT
Material from the Martian surface captured by the robotic arm scoop on the 14th Martian day of the mission.    (AP Photo)
camera-icon View 2 more images

(Newser) – The soil on Mars turns out to be too clumpy to be analyzed by the Phoenix lander, but scientists are confident they've found away around the problem by "dribbling" it small amounts on sifters. They won't know for sure whether the new technique works for a day or two, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

The Phoenix has eight tiny ovens ready to cook the Martian soil and search for chemical evidence of life. "To be honest," said one scientist, "we were worried about not having enough soil to work with, and we never expected such a richness." The Phoenix uses an 8-foot long mechanical arm with a camera attached to dig and dump the soil.