A new scout is scheduled to land on Mars tomorrow afternoon. The Phoenix lander will touch down atop frozen plains that are north of the planet's Arctic Circle. Like previous Mars missions, it's not designed to look for life -- at least not directly. But lead scientist Peter Smith, at the University of Arizona, says that Phoenix will try to find if Mars could be a good home for life.
SMITH: We're looking at the conditions that are conducive for life. And those conditions include the presence of liquid water, periodically. Are there food sources for organisms -- for instance organic molecules that could even have been delivered by comets or asteroids? Are there the chemicals that make up our life form? Are there energy sources? So we're looking for an environment that's habitable -- if you were to place organisms there, would they be able to exist? [:32]
Phoenix will study the conditions by digging perhaps two or three feet into the frozen soil. It'll dump samples of the soil into small chemical laboratories and microscopes. The instruments will look for signs of water and the building blocks of life.
Phoenix -- the first Mars "œScout" mission -- will also operate a weather station. Its readings will provide new information on the interplay between the planet's polar ice caps, its frozen ground, and its atmosphere.
The lander is designed to operate for about 90 days before it succumbs to the cold of the Martian north.
And we'll post images from the lander throughout the mission on our web site -- stardate.org.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2008
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