The robotic arm of the Phoenix Lander is scooping Martian soil that appears to be clumping together. This is not ideal for the tests the spacecraft is designed to perform on the soil.

Engineers are testing a revised method in light of the clumpy soil problem. The soil is intended to pass through a screen for the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer (TEGA) to test. After 20 minutes of vibrating the screen, only a few particles fell from the clumpy soil to pass through the screen.

The revised method will hold the scoop at an angle above the delivery target and attempt to sprinkle out a small sample through vibrating the scoop which is assisted by a motorized rasp on the bottom of the scoop.

Hopefully the tests will be able to go forward with this new method. I’d like to know why the soil is clumpy. It is wet clumpy or merely clay clumpy?

Phoenix mission 06.08.08