NASA Mars Phoenix Briefing - LIVEBLOG

Hey all, the fun's just about to begin. Stay tuned here for live updates from the press briefing.

Michael Meyer
Peter Smith
William Boynton
Victoria Hipkin
Mark Lemmon

Meyer talking about the mission now. Says it's successful.

Mission being extended to end of fiscal year. Says there's plenty of power left.

More after the jump....


Handing over to Peter Smith, Principal Investigator. He's thanking everyone.

Phoenix will be investigating two new trenches. Possibly different ice properties.

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Complete panoramas are completed. Weather investigation ongoing for 65 sols. Expected to find water, and they did.

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Probe on the end of robotic arm is investigating soil as well as ice. Microscopes are finding clay-like components. Unexpected properties. Just starting to apply the atomic force microscope which increases resolution by a factor of 40.

Analysis hopes to answer the question: is this a habitable zone? (ie. periodic liquid water and basic ingredients for lifeforms)

Finding sodium, potassium, magnesium, etc. nutrients important for life. Says NO organic materials yet.

Blade on scoop grabbing hard materials, scrapign and rasping to find the ice.

now showing a series of photos of the scraping and digging process.

Several scoops taken. At the bottom is a dark patch of ice. Changes properties (blue to white to red) as it sublimates into the atmosphere throughout the day.

Coming up: Bill Boynton, lead scientist on TEGA


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Showing awesome animation of how the TEGA sampler works.

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Explaining the small setbacks in soil/ice analysis. Yesterday mornign they announced they indeed had a sample. and there was ice in it. Not sure how much, at most a few percent. But ICE IS CONFIRMED. Noticed by melting.

Everything named after fairy tales. This sample is called "Wicked Witch." named for the witch in hansel and gretel who gets pushed into the oven.

Boynton putting on witch regalia: :)

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Hipkin now up.

Discussing all the instruments on Phoenix. Landed in late springtime on Mars. Now at sol 65. heading toward sol 74 which is where they expect to see maximum water vapor in the atmosphere.

Showing lidar images now.
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Can see 1.5km of lidar beam and also the sky. Can see some of wind direction also. Image can also help understand the composition of particles in the air.

Summary: Late spring to mid summer. Daily measurements of wind, vertical profiles, dust and cloud structure, temperature, pressure, etc.

Combined measurements over time will give understanding of full seasons.

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Maximum wind speeds 7m/s (15mph). Wind can tell you how to interpret a lot of the data. Image showing local topgraphy:

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Valley sides are 250m high. Local topography is influencing some of the data. Slopes of valley sides are influencing windspeeds. Also affecting temperature data.

Lemmon discussing cameras and SSI

1 megapixel. RGB sent/captured separately

over 100 different directions and 500 photos used to make panoramas.

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final panorama is 150 megapixel. and a few hundred megabytes.

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[sorry for the low res picture, I'm sure NASA will release the high res soon]

Shallow troughs in ground indicate ice. On right side of image more trenches that confirmed ice.

CO2 ice burial? Rocks are confusing. Many larger rocks, unclear how wind has affected them. Phoenix will look for smaller scale change also. Fraction of seasonal scale changes. Images taken during warmest time of year. Hopefully frost will appear later.

Panoramic photos can put everything in context.

What next? Ongoing imaging. Take another panorama. They expect (no guarantees) a panorama called "happily ever after" that will be 1500 images taken through all geology filters and 2/3 of a gigabyte. That's a massive photo!

Floor is open for questions.

To Boynton: Has TEGA shown that there is a chemical composition of ice, or just the energy differential?

Boynton: Melting point at 0C leaves little doubt that it is ice.

Q: Will the current sample be able to test all kinds of chemical properties or do we need another? Impurities in ice?

A: More tests on current sample, then more later.

Dave Pearlman, San Francisco Chronicle: Can you describe how you managed to get some proportion of ice into TEGA? Any difficulty in moving materials?

Boynton: Not difficult. Didn't expect ice in TEGA sample, but got lucky. Was intending to just do soil. Initial problems with first sample due to 'big glob of dirt' that got stuck in the scoop. Not anticipating future problems.

Pearlman: Does the ice itself contribute to the clumping and stickiness?

Boynton: Good question. Not sure. Soil has interesting physical properties. Clumpiness is one of the more interesting. Hypothesis: salt in soil, in which case ice would contribute. Won't really be able to say whether impurities are coming from ice or dirt. Analysis of ice-rich sample may allow us to associate impurities with ice.

Telephone question from Houston Chronicle: still six ovens left in TEGA, explain strategy for using them, and update on electrical short issue.

Boynton: Electrical short caused by solenoid vibrator. Overheating may have caused wires to touch chassis. The short circuit has disappeared (not sure why). Wasn't really a problem, and they can still operate. They do have plans for the other ovens. Good surface soil samples ready to go. Hopefully not too many rocket debris interference. Might then go back to "Snow White" to get a higher concentration of ice samples. Want to save one oven blank for analyzing organic materials. Want to be able to say with confidence that it isn't material that was brought with from Earth.

Q: Is part of the reason for extending the mission to make sure you can find organic molecules?

A: Part of it. We hope to be able to do this analysis among other. The reason for the extended mission is to use up the remaining ovens.

Victoria: Extended mission also very important for understanding the other seasons. More dust and cloud activity.

Peter Smith: We are finding salts in the surface samples. Purposely not trying to add ice. Some signatures not comprehensive. Hard to say about alkalinity. Over next month or two we'll be able to fully understand.

Meyer: How to all the results corroborate between other missions.

Kate Tobin, CNN: Sample now in TEGA will take a week, then 3-4 weeks analysis, can you explain the whole process? How long to get data down? What happens when it comes down? What types of compounds do you expect?

Boynton: First, heat sample to 35C. Look to see if there's ice. Spend 90 minutes drying out the sample. Get rid of water. Pump the molecules out so they don't interfer. On 3rd day, ramp up temperature to 175C. Expect may be oxidants in sample. Then heat to higher temp, expect organic molecules to be coming off. Finally heat to 1000C, repeat next day, get baseline measurements. Very complicated process. When data gets to earth, you crunch it then plan for next set of data.

Todd Halverson, Florida Today: For Meyers, cost of extending the mission?

Meyers: 2 million dollars through September 30.

Halverson: Put the findings into perspective with other Mars missions.

Meyers: Really big deal. Conclusive search. Future missions moving away from finding water, and looking for actual habitats for life.

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