The scientific tourist #22 — Phoenix on Mars!

On Tuesdays I normally post a picture that I’ve taken myself — but in this case, it’s pretty obvious that the pictures I’ve taken just can’t compete. Here’s a small piece of one of the first images sent home from the recently arrived Phoenix lander, now hard at work in the martian arctic:

Sure — to some extent, it just looks like a whole lot of dirt. But if you look a bit more closely, you’ll notice a recurring pattern of shallow grooves in the surface, maybe a few inches deep, and spaced a few meters apart. This is called “patterned terrain,” and is common to permafrost regions on Earth, as well as to large swaths of Mars’ arctic. At least on Earth, the grooves are caused as ice undergoes seasonal freezing and thawing.

Is the same true on Mars? We should soon find out, since Phoenix was sent to Mars specifically to puzzle out what the subsurface of the martian arctic looks like. Once some preliminaries are done (taking panoramas of the surroundings, etc.), Phoenix’ robotic arm will be deployed, and soon could start digging trenches in the soil next to the lander.

Stay tuned to the Phoenix home pages (one each for NASA headquarters, JPL, and the University of Arizona) for future news…

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