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Mars probe Phoenix digs up first sample of Martian soil

Nearly two weeks after its historic landing, the US Mars probe Phoenix has scooped up its first sample of Martian soil and begun analyzing it for water and organic compounds, a NASA official said.

A chunk of permafrost-like soil of the Martian arctic was scooped up Thursday by the probe's 2.35 meter (7.7 foot) titanium and aluminum backhoe-like extension. It now lies inside the scoop, poised over an instrument called the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer, or TEGA, where it will be dumped and sealed in for several days of analysis.

Phoenix is scheduled to collect two more samples of Martian soil over the next few days. One will be analyzed by optical microscope, the other by chemical analysis.

The scientists stressed that the Phoenix probe is not equipped to test Martian soil for fossils or living microbes.

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Since landing on May 25, the spacecraft has already compiled photographs of the stark reddish Martian north pole terrain surrounding it.





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