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07/10/2008

Thermo Fisher Scientific Instruments Analyze Samples on Mars



Thermo Fisher Scientific announced the progress of the Thermo Scientific Orion 229918 sensor assembly that is part of the Microscopy, Electrochemistry and Conductivity Analyzer (MECA) instrument used for the Wet Chemistry Laboratory (WCL) in NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander.

The Phoenix Mars Mission launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida on August 4, 2007. Under contract with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the water specialists at Thermo Fisher Scientific developed the Orion 229918 sensor assembly specifically for this mission to Mars. The goal of this mission is to answer three primary questions: 1. Can the Martian arctic support life? 2. What is the history of water at the landing site? 3. How is Martian climate affected by polar dynamics? The Orion 229918 sensor assembly will play a key role in analyzing soil samples to determine its history and whether or not it was exposed to liquid water at some point in the past.

The Phoenix Mars Lander successfully landed on Mars this past May. Since reaching Mars, the Phoenix Lander has performed its first wet chemistry experiment on June 26, which returned a wealth of information about the composition of the Martian soil. The experiments indicated that the soil on Mars is very basic with a pH between eight and nine. This finding was a surprise and ended years of controversy among scientists. This level of pH is similar to some soils found on Earth that can sustain the growth of various bacteria as well as certain vegetation. It was also determined that various salts were present in the soil, such as magnesium, sodium, potassium and chloride. The presence of these elements did not surprise scientist but they were intrigued to know that those elements were soluble in water, making them potentially available for life. Currently, the Phoenix Lander has delivered a second soil sample to the wet chemistry laboratory for analysis. Results from this next sample will be compared to the findings from the first sample described above.

According to the NASA website, the goals going forward for the Phoenix Lander will be to dig for water frozen under subsurface soil; to examine, vaporize and sniff the soil and ice to discover the history of water on Mars; to determine if the Martian arctic soil could support life; and to study Martian weather from a polar perspective.

Source: Thermo Fisher Scientific




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