On May 29 the lander began a two-day mission to unstow its digging arm. Images were sent back of the arm and continued to send back pictures of a panoramic view of the area scientists will be exploring. In the following days scientists and engineers were busy making certain that Phoenix was secure before they began digging with the 8-foot arm. Images of the underside of the lander revealed not only that it was on stable ground but it appeared that during the landing the thrusters blew just enough soil to reveal what appears to be ice beneath Phoenix.
“We were glad it didn’t sweep too much [soil] from the area,” Lemmon said.
If too much had been blown off, it might have contaminated other areas in which digging will take place.
Although tests must be completed before the confirmation of ice, the team feels confident that they have landed exactly where they wanted to be.
“This looks to be the ice we are looking for,” Lemmon said. “It is not at all dirty, it looks very bright to the eye, not pristine, but it looks like a big block of ice which was buried under two to three inches of dirt.”
Daily weather reports are received from Phoenix, the information gathered help scientists determine the best time to dig so as not to contaminate samples from blowing winds.
A Mars landing would not be complete without a “sighting” of a Martian, or maybe just a Martian’s footprint.
Once the arm began to stretch it made a test dig into the soil, the Phoenix sent back an photo that looked like a footprint, not human exactly, but Yeti-like.
This started the Internet “X-Filers” buzzing.
“It was impressive,” Lemmon said of the photo. “It was cool. You looked at it and it looked so familiar but we knew we had to come up with an explanation.”
Lemmon said they went back to the model of the arm and began scooping dirt. The “footprint” had four toes; the scooper arm has four toes.
“We got out the model and pushed it into [soil] and found that [footprint] is exactly what happens,” he said.
Despite no Yeti found on Mars, scientists are excited about the arm’s first test collecting and releasing soil.
The following test had the arm scoop up soil, and images were taken before the soil was dropped back to the surface.
The future will have the arm scoop more of the soil and scrape ice samples.
“The biggest problem is that it will be very hard and difficult to dig, but that is why we brought the drill,” Lemmon said.
If the scoop cannot scrape enough ice for a sample, the lander is equipped to drill into the surface to extract a sample.
Lemmon said that since the landing there have been many “oh wow” moments.
“The camera team seeing the that the first pictures were good and the first shots of Mars — that was a wonderful experience,” Lemmon said.