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Mission to Mars' north poloar region Phoenix Mars Lander

  Audio Recording of Phoenix Media Telecon for June 3, 2008 June 3, 2008

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Jane Platt:                     Welcome. I'm Jane Platt with the Media Relations Office at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, and we're going to be joined by the University of Arizona in Tucson. We have the latest news today from the Phoenix Mars Lander. We're going to hear from one speaker, and then we'll take reporters' questions. To ask a question, please press star one, so the operator can put you in the queue. We're going to start out by turning things over to Johnny Cruz, the Media Relations Director at the University of Arizona. Good morning, Johnny.

Johnny Cruz:                 Hi, Jane. Uh, before we begin, I'd like to point out to everyone participating in the call where to access the latest images and animations from the Phoenix mission. You can go either to and access the images either on the Images or the Video and Animation section. Or you can go to in the Images section. We have one speaker joining us today for the teleconference. That is Peter Smith, Principal Investigator for the Phoenix mission from the University of Arizona. And I'm going to turn things over to Peter.

Peter Smith:                  Uh, good morning, everyone. The, uh, last few days we've been making our first attempts to interact with the Martian surface. Now, this, uh, is not as easy as it might sound -- uh, just to reach out and grab some, uh, soil, and-and, you know, interact with the surface. Dig and dump, so to speak; sort of what a child does on the beach with their sand pail and their shovel. But, uh, we're doing it blind from 170 million miles away. So, it's-it's taken a little more, uh, expertise than, you might imagine, with the child and the pail.

                                    So, I-I have a little video here that shows how we've interacted with the surface so far in an area called the Knave of Hearts. And it's, uh -- there's four frames in this, uh, short video. And we start with an unaltered scene. Then we just press down on it with sort of the-the back of the, uh, Robotic Arm's hand. And, uh -- and then we took a scoop of soil and, uh, dumped it over in another area. And finally, the -- we show a colored image.

                                    Now, uh, the, uh, the first press was very successful. You notice that it's deeper on one side than the other. That's because we pushed down on a slope. The slope's about 15 degrees, and so the right-hand side of the scoop makes a bigger indent than the left-hand side. And the back of the scoop, uh, has some raised areas on it, which made a pattern that looked like toes. So, it-it's kind of a footprint-looking object. And then the dig was done just above it, and actually, uh, covered up part of that, uh, first touch.

                                    The, uh, the scoop was imaged, and we showed the image yesterday. It has, uh, mostly clumpy soil and a little bit of white material in there that, uh, could either be salts or perhaps ice. It-it was hard for us to tell just by looking at it, but it's certainly bright and-and something unusual in the soil. Uh, yesterday we had a bit of a mystery, because after getting a scoopful, we dumped it over in the dumpsite, but then the, uh, researchers who were looking for it couldn't seem to find it. And it wasn't until we came up with a-a blank image, which we'll show next, that, uh -- are they seeing these, uh, Johnny?

Johnny Cruz:                 [Not -- uh], maybe on their own computers.

Male Voice:                  [No, they can't].  

Peter Smith:                  So, you have to bring up the image, uh -- is it under the number, [Eric]?

Eric:                             Yeah.

Peter Smith:                  It's 12210. And that's a blank image that's shown before and after the scoop. And you can see, outlined by the shadow of the Robotic Arm, there's a little material that has been placed on the surface. Well, the team felt they-they weren't really comfortable yet with the digging and dumping process. They haven't really mastered it, and they wanted to do that for another day, uh, to dig a little deeper, uh, do-do some more of the, uh, dumping, and record it through the Robotic Arm camera, which, uh, they neg-neglected to do the first time.

                                    And so, we really feel more comfortable with how the material's interacting with the scoop, with how the scoop's interacting with the soil. And when we deliver our first sample to TEGA, we want to be absolutely sure that we have what we want, and, uh, and deliver it properly. So, doing this slowly and deliberately is really the right thing for us to do, and even if it takes an extra Sol.

                                    The other, uh, interesting thing is the TEGA itself, which is Image 12143, uh, was told to deploy its doors. First it opened its cover, which you see rolled down at the bottom. It looks kind of like, uh, one of the old blinds that, uh, rolls into a-a-a cylinder. So, there's a cylinder at the bottom of the oven doors that goes, uh, from the lower left of the screen towards the upper right. Uh, that's the door that was retracted. And then the doors were opened.

                                    And we could see on the right-hand oven that one door is wide open; the other door is partially open. Well, this is not what we expected. However, the, uh, the springs that are trying to open that door are likely to-to complete their action once we get to the heat of mid-day on Mars. And so, we're-we're giving that an extra day, too -- another good reason to-to take an extra Sol.

                                    However, uh, we have tested the delivery process with the partially opened doors, and we know that we can get, uh, a sample into our oven exactly the way we want to with even the doors partially opened, because there's plenty of exposed screen inside that, uh, is the, uh, outer cover of our oven delivery system. So, this is not, uh, a-a serious problem of any kind. But, uh, we would be surprised if it doesn't open all the way today.

                                    So, the, uh, the news from us is we're-we're taking an extra day to really learn how to operate, uh, remotely on the surface of Mars, interacting with this-this-this, uh, soil that we're just learning its properties. We've only touched it twice. And, uh, learning how to collect samples, and deliver them to the place we expect them to go. And we're very close to that. I think one more day and we're there. So, uh, mostly good news.

                                    The other -- the other, of course, things we're doing is monitoring weather, and, uh, imaging a little bit under the Lander to try and understand the exposed i -- or what looks like ice, and may be -- may very well be ice, and that's what we expect it to be. However, it-it's not proven that it's ice, and there may be salts or some other materials associated with these surface layers. Uh, so I think that's, uh, my report for today, and I'm happy to answer any questions.

Jane Platt:                     Okay. Thank you very much, Peter. And again, for reporters who are on the line, if you do have a question, press star one, and the operator will get you in the queue so we can call on you. Our first question comes from the Chicago Tribune and Jeremy Manier.

Jeremy Manier:             Thanks very much. Uh, just-just like, uh, two little questions -- a two-part question. One is, is-is -- are some of these problems you're-you're outlining related to the-the cold temperature where-where the-the Lander is? I mean, either with the stuck, uh, you know, oven door, or-or with the nature of the-the soil-soil you're dealing with?

                                    I-I also just wonder-wondered if you could just clarify really briefly -- because I've seen a couple stories that-that sort of dance around the subject of, uh, you know, to what extent this -- the-the Phoenix is looking for-for signs of life. I-I just -- and that's a big subject you've probably covered in appearances before, but if you could give a-a summary of how what you're looking for is or isn't connected to the story of life, uh, if it was ever there on Mars.

Peter Smith:                  Okay. Well, let's see. The first part of your question was -- remind me?

Jeremy Manier:             The-the-the-the nature -- the relation of the temperature to, uh, to these problems.

Peter Smith:                  Yeah. Well, the temperatures we're measuring are between minus 30 C and minus 80 C, which in Fahrenheit is minus 22 to minus 112. Now, those are obviously very cold temperatures compared to an Earth environment. However, all of our, uh, scientific instruments, and-and the Arm, and the TEGA instrument, have been tested at those temperatures, and, uh, should be very happy in that environment. In fact, they don't work as well in warmer environments sometimes. I think the Arm does, but the TEGA really needs a cold environment.

                                    Uh, so, it's a little bit of a surprise that that one door didn't open all the way, and it's not something that's been seen in their testing. So, we're just being patient. We think maybe temperature's involved there, and it-it should pop open when the sun, uh -- the full noon sun hits it today. Uh, as far as the soil itself, yeah, the cold temperatures have some affect on soil. But I think more important, uh, the affect on soil is this ice that's likely right near the surface. I mean, that's why we landed in this spot. We see the terrain features are indicative of icy surfaces. We see a hard layer under the Lander that could well be ice, although we haven't proven that.

                                    And, uh, it's the properties of ice that give us some hope that we can take another step in finding life on Mars. Uh, we find on the polar regions on the Earth that ice -- uh, the-the, uh, ice in the polar regions contains, uh, the history of climate over a long period of time. It's locked into the ice layer by layer, as it's deposited from the sky. It holds, uh, little air bubbles that tell you what the atmosphere was like in the past, and you can see evidence of climate change of all sorts.

                                    The other thing you-you can see in the, uh, ice is-is the preservation of life signatures on the Earth. And, uh, all kinds of organic materials are captured in there and preserved, just like in your freezer at home -- preserved for long periods of time, and I'm talking millions of years. So, over millions of years, you can go back in time and look at life's signatures on Earth preserved in the ice. Now, on Mars, we don't know if life ever evolved on Mars or not. They have no idea. There's no signpost that says, "Land here, and you'll find evidence for life." It's just not that way.

                                    And we're just taking an exploratory step here, and our instruments are not designed to decode DNA molecules or anything of that sort. We're looking for the basic ingredients that would allow life to, uh, prosper in this environment, and that is liquid water and organic materials -- complex organic materials. And if we found both of those things, that would be the next step in the search for life, but it wouldn't prove that life itself was existing on Mars, because organic materials can come from asteroids and comets, and certainly have over time on Mars. So, but it's-it's the environment that life would need to survive, and that's our goal.

Jeremy Manier:             Thanks a lot.

Jane Platt:                     All right. Thank you, Peter. The next question is up in Northern California, David Perlman at the San Francisco Chronicle.

David Perlman:             Yeah, hi folks. Uh, this is just David Perlman being stupid. I didn't, uh -- I-I didn't know where I was supposed to go to see that video, and I'm still looking for it on my screen, and I can't find it.

Peter Smith:                  Uh, well, Johnny can help you with that.

Johnny Cruz:                 Uh, if you go to --

David Perlman:             Yeah, that's where I went.

Johnny Cruz:                 Okay. If you click on, uh, Gallery, and then on the right-hand side there's a link that says Videos and Animation.

David Perlman:             All right.

Johnny Cruz:                 Right at the top it says Sol 9 Videos.

David Perlman:             Uh, I'm on Sol 8 Videos. No wonder. Well --

Peter Smith:                  You're only a day behind, David.

David Perlman:             [Laughs] Okay. I'll find it. Don't worry about it.

Jane Platt:                     All right, David.

David Perlman:             I'm sorry. I have no questions. I'm just glad to hear that things are going okay, and you'll get that door open, and-and, uh, when-when do you expect --

Peter Smith:                  [Crosstalk] will have soil in the TEGA oven very soon.

David Perlman:             That's what I want to know. The -- you say "very soon" -- does that mean Sol 10, or something like that?

Peter Smith:                  I think, uh, that was our original goal. I think now it's Sol 11, if I'm not mistaken.

David Perlman:             Okay. All right.

Peter Smith:                  [Is that right, Johnny]?

Jane Platt:                     Okay, David, so you're all set for right now?

David Perlman:             Yeah. I'm happy again. Uh.

Jane Platt:                     Okay. All right. Let's jump back to Southern California, the L.A. Times, John Johnson.

John Johnson:               Well, following up on David's question, uh, just wanted to-to make sure I understand this. So, since if you're delaying it a day, that means the sample -- you're not going to command the sample to be taken and then analyzed until the day after tomorrow, and then you'll get it the day after that? I mean, I-I guess I'm just trying to get a -- get a better feeling for the --

Peter Smith:                  Yeah, that's exactly right.

John Johnson:               Excuse me?

Peter Smith:                  That's exactly right.

John Johnson:               Uh, all right. That's all I wanted to know. Thank you, Peter.

Peter Smith:                  So, tonight is another -- uh, we-we commanded another dig-dig and dump test to be sure we really understand how to ga-gather samples -- the ones we want, that is, and not some other sample; and, uh, to deliver them to another location. So, I think it's really prudent to practice this step, and not, uh, put something into one of our few ovens -- we've only got eight, after all -- and to put something in that we didn't mean to put in, or-or miss our goal, you know? We-we want to do this right.

John Johnson:               Sure. Uh, and the backup filament -- is that still holding?

Peter Smith:                  Yes. And the backup filament, it turns out, is actually more sensitive than the primary filament. So, that was a bit of a surprise to me. Bill [Boin] was explaining to me why that works, and I wish I could explain it to you. It's kind of technical.

John Johnson:               Okay. Well, thank you.

Jane Platt:                     For the next question, we're going to go to Irish Television, and Leo Enright. Leo?

Leo Enright:                  Thanks, Jane. I-I'm having the same problem with these pictures. I've found the videos just now. Uh, I still can't find picture 2210 or 12143, uh, that Peter referred to, and I'm just wondering where those are, because when I do a search even of keywords, that doesn't come up.

Jane Platt:                     Johnny, can you help?

Johnny Cruz:                 Sure.

Jane Platt:                     Can you get a little closer so people can hear you well?

Johnny Cruz:                 Yes. Uh, it looks like on the -- uh, the, uh, the numbers are not on the Phoenix mission site, it doesn't appear.

Jane Platt:                     [Unintelligible].

Johnny Cruz:                 So, just go -- just go under, uh, Gallery, and right there you'll see Sol 9, uh, images toward the bottom.

Leo Enright:                  Okay. Just, uh -- sorry, my-my computer has slowed down just at that critical moment.

Jane Platt:                     Of course. It's because it knows we're all -- we're waiting.

Leo Enright:                  Uh, okay. So, I'm-I'm at, uh, Sol -- well, I've only got Sol 8, here. Sorry, I'm going -- where am I going to?

Male Voice:                  Tell him to refresh [unintelligible].

Johnny Cruz:                 Okay. Refresh your -- refresh your, uh, your page.

Leo Enright:                  Okay.

Johnny Cruz:                 And under Gallery, you should access the Sol 9 image.

Leo Enright:                  I'm seeing Lander images, then Sol 8, Sol 7, Sol 6.

Johnny Cruz:                 It -- uh, well, it-it's there. Uh, and then --

Leo Enright:                  Okay, well --

Johnny Cruz:                 -- the still image is there under Re -- uh, on the left-hand side, un-under Recent Press Release Images. And then the two animations that Peter referenced, again, are on the Videos and Animation section, uh, that are on the right -- the link is on the right-hand side of the page.

Leo Enright:                  Okay. Well, I'll-I'll have to work on that offline. Okay. Uh, just a question then, Peter, if I may, about imaging below the Lander. Uh, Ray [Orbetson] was talking yesterday about maybe getting some pictures with the sun to the north. I guess that would be local midnight, if I understand this, uh, at all. And did-did you manage to get those pictures, and, uh, if not, when would you expect to have those, and how definitive might those be in terms of [unintelligible] and understanding of what's going on in the -- in, uh, in the Holy Cow region?

Peter Smith:                  Yes. Uh, the spacecraft team is uncomfortable doing nighttime observations at this point, and they haven't authorized us to take nighttime images outside of our typical, uh, work hours on Mars. So, it'll be a couple of days before they authorize those activities. And they will, but it'll be, uh -- I-I thought it was Sol 10, but it might be Sol 11. So, we really can't do any nighttime observations using the camera until then. We are allowed to take, uh, pressure and temperature data at night, because that's done autonomously by the, uh, the MET station.

Jane Platt:                     Okay. And sorry that some of you are having trouble finding the images and animation. If we do refer to specific images, maybe we can help by giving a very vivid description of exactly where they're located on the page. Uh, let's take our next question, and that will be from, uh, Alan Fischer at the Tucson Citizen.

Alan Fischer:                Hello, Peter. I had a-a quick question concerning clarifying the scheduling again. Is it -- is it accurate that we are going to be, uh, doing a -- some more practice with the dig and dump effort tomorrow, and then actually going for an actual sample then on Thursday? Is that correct, or did I mis-misunderstand earlier?

Peter Smith:                  Well, the, uh, dig and dump will take place today. It was commanded last night. And then the sample acquisition took -- should take place tomorrow. It'll be commanded tonight. It takes place tomorrow. So, we're working nights here, which probably explains my foggy, uh, brain. [Laughs] And, uh, I think, uh, we should -- it takes, uh, two days once you gather the sample to get it into the TEGA instrument. So, that should be, I think, Friday.

Alan Fischer:                Very good. Thank you, sir.

Jane Platt:                     Okay. And also, I should mention, uh, that the media telecon is being recorded. And if you missed anything or just want to hear it again or follow along, it'll be available by phone for a week. The number will be 800-294-0358. The international phone number for that will be 402-220-9749. And we also are posting it online at our Web site, Yesterday's is already up there, and we'll have today's up there in an-an hour or so afterwards, uh, with a transcript to follow. So, in any case, without further ado, let's go to the next question from Sky and Telescope, and Kelly Beatty.

Kelly Beatty:                 Yes, thanks. Uh, Peter, just a couple questions about the, uh, SSI. Uh, I see in the raw images a whole bunch of images of color targets. Does that mean that the 12-color data of-of the surroundings is-is soon to come? And also, when do you anticipate being able to show us, uh, color pans of the surroundings?

Peter Smith:                  Yes, we're all anxious to see those. Uh, I-I-I don't know the exact timeline. Uh, we're-we're putting them in as we're able. Obviously the, uh, the characterization phase ends with the delivery of a sample to TEGA. So, that's our highest priority during characterization phase. And we're sliding in these color images as we're able, and there's a number of them that have come down. We just haven't put them together in a product yet. There-there's gaps, in other words.

                                    So, you can look for that, uh, I would think towards the end of the week. And there still may be some gaps by then, because we're trying to do these, uh, with as little compression in the images as possible, so we don't have so many, uh, compression artifacts that we saw on the first views around the Lander. Uh, and the, uh, multi-spectral images -- yes, we do have a lot of color target images, but those are all our -- also our, uh, our magnets. And the-the Danish part of our team is, uh, of course interested in those magnets, so they've taken a number of pictures for that purpose. Uh, I think we've collected most of our multi-spectral [spot], and we haven't quite got a-a product out of it yet.

Kelly Beatty:                 Okay, thank you.

Jane Platt:                     Next question is from the Washington Post and David Brown.

David Brown:               Uh, hi. Thanks for taking my call. I'm-I'm standing in for someone else, so I'm -- my ignorance is-is bottomless. But I was wondering if you could, uh, just say a little bit about what happens in these ovens? Are you -- you're heating up the material, and driving off volatile fractions of it, and then is there a spectrometer, or -- what-what is actually -- uh, what are the measuring devices, and how's it going to happen?

Peter Smith:                  Yeah, you're very close there. We-we have a tiny oven. And it's tiny because, uh, if you had a bigger oven, the amount of power it would take would exceed our abilities to provide. So, we'd like to get up to high temperatures, uh, of 1,000 C. Now, that's 1,800 Fahrenheit. So, the purpose of the ovens is, first, to drive off water, and give a measure of how much water was in the sample. So, in that way we can get some idea of the-the ice-to-soil ratio.

                                    In other words, it's the -- what looks like dry soil on the surface, is it really dry? Is there 2 percent, 5 percent, 10 percent water or ice hidden in those little, uh, [clods]? So, the first thing is just to find out how much water's in the soil. And of course, when we get pure ice -- if we're able to -- uh, down from the ice layer, uh, that'll be a very high number, and there will be a lot of water in the sample. Uh, also, there's going to be minerals in the soil that have, uh, volatiles attached, as you point out. And those could be like carbonates; they could be clays with water attached; they could be, uh, the magnesium sulfate, or-or the, uh, gypsum type material that was found by the Rovers.

                                    All of these materials have volatiles attached as part of their, uh, physical structure. So, as you heat them up, you get to a specific temperature which you drive off, say, the water for the magnesium sulfate. And that temperature is a very good clue as to what that mineral is, and how it's, uh, uh, put together. So, not only that, but as the vapors come off, they're entrained into a carrier gas and brought into a mass spectrometer where we can look carefully at those gases that come off. We can get isotopic ratios and a lot of other really important scientific data that tells us really what's going on.

                                    And-and it's this instrument that allows us to look for the complex organics, because [at], uh, a couple of different temperature regimes -- I think 300 to 400 C is a good one that drives off, uh, complex organic materials. We'll see those in our mass spectrometer. And there's, uh, a lot of organics associated with asteroids that come off at about 700 C, which is much higher than the Viking instruments were able to go. So, a high temperature and the organic material's also a-a major goal of this instrument.

David Brown:               Can I just ask a follow-up question?

Jane Platt:                     Sure, go ahead.

David Brown:               Uh, the, uh, the carbon compounds that come from asteroids are -- can you describe those as complex carbon compounds, or are they simple ones, and carbon ones would have to come from a, uh -- you know, from some life-based source? And also, can-can you just repeat tho-those two, uh, temperature breakpoints that are going to be informative as far as the carbon goes?

Peter Smith:                  Well, I may not have them exactly right, because I'm going from memory here, but, uh, there-there's a-a range from 300 to 400 where with Earth materials, you know with a lot of organic stuff inside, if you heat up to those temperatures, you'll drive off, uh, a lot of organic material. In other words, the carbon chains break down, and you get carbon dioxide coming off, and you get a whole chain of little, simple, uh, organic materials that come out of gas. And, uh, our instrument would be capable of seeing those.

                                    Uh, the other range is up around 700 or 800, where there's what's called [carogens], which is kind of an organic gunk. In other words, if you took organic materials and-and decayed it into, uh -- I don't know what you'd call it -- the -- it's kind of like some byproduct of the organic materials that decays into a different type of material that we do see on asteroids -- complex organics that aren't very volatile. In other words, the volatiles have been driven off, but not to the point where it's destroyed the molecules. Those are called carogens, and they could come out at higher temperatures.

                                    Asteroids can have a whole range of very complicated organic materials associated with them. So can comets. Those have been seen in the flybys of comets and some of the material that's been returned from comets. So, uh, we know that organic -- complex organic materials -- in other words, long carbon chain, uh, molecules can form in this -- in this fashion. And those are pre-biotic -- there's -- nobody's ever associated that with life.

David Brown:               Great, thank you.

Jane Platt:                     Okay, thank you. And our next question is from Arizona Public Media, and that's Luis Carrion. 

Luis Carrion:                 Uh, yes, hi. This is, uh, Luis Carrion here with Arizona Public Media. Uh, a question for Peter. Uh, you know, being here in Arizona, we're all very excited to, uh, have a small part in this fantastic mission, and it's great to see, uh, so much of the science accessible to everyone through the Internet, and through all these wonderful resources that we have at our disposal.

                                    Recently one of the local, uh, newspapers here published a whole group of letters from, uh, people that kind of expressed a little bit of, uh, skepticism as to why we should be devoting, uh, so many resources to this mission. And, uh, I was wondering if you might have, uh, some sort of response for-for those people that think that maybe, you know, uh -- that-that wonder why it is that we're spending so much money, uh, to conduct this mission?

Peter Smith:                  Well, I heard a good quote yesterday from [Enrico Ferme], who asked why they were building the-the large, uh, cyclotron in Illinois, and why spending so much money when it's not going to be a weapon system, or something that helps, uh, in the defense of America. And he said, "What we're doing is the reason why you're defending America." And, you know, I think what we're doing is one of the great things that America's able to do, because we do have -- we are a wealthy nation, and it's really our gift to humanity in the fact that we're able to really take the next step as a human species and explore our neighboring planets, and to answer some of the basic questions that people have been asking for all time, like, "Are we alone in the universe?"

                                    Uh, we're finding lots of planetary systems around the Milky Way, and-and other -- well, not in other galaxies, but around the Milky Way, and we assume that in other galaxies there's lots of planets there, too. If we could determine for sure that our neighboring planet, Mars, has developed, uh, some sort of life forms, or has the abilities to sustain life, that gives you a really interesting idea about our Milky Way, that perhaps it's -- you know, that life is very common, and that, uh, there may be other, you know, ecological systems out there, and we're not really alone in the universe like sometimes we think we are.

                                    I think it's a really important question. It adds, uh, great depth to our understanding of who we are, and-and the, uh, universe we live in. Now, also, you know, we don't shoot the money out into space. It's actually spent in America, and it-it's really spent, uh, in the best -- uh, for the best and brightest engineers and scientists, so that they have, uh, a chance to-to show how-how ab -- how they're able to do great things in th -- in this country. It'd be a shame if we lost that ability, in my opinion, and, uh, were only using our money to build weapon systems.

                                    So, uh, this-this is, I think, a great endeavor, and people who think we should be spending money on, uh, solving the questions of poverty -- really, the money we are spending would not solve any-any -- I mean, it would only solve the poverty problem for a few people. You know, the, uh, rebate is costing us $110 billion -- the $600 per tax payer -- $110 billion. Our mission is $0.4 billion. So, it wouldn't even be an extra few pennies, uh, you know, on that rebate check.

Luis Carrion:                 Great. Great, thank you.

Jane Platt:                     Okay. The next question is Aviation Week and Craig Covault. Hello, Craig?

Craig Covault:              Hi, good morning, Jane, Peter, everyone. Uh, Peter just, uh, taking you back down there to the surface, uh, have the geology guys made any assessments on, uh, the character of the rocks?

Peter Smith:                  Well, yeah. The -- you can see them in the pictures, that-that a lot of the rocks are what we call tabular. In other words, they're flat-topped, and they look like slabs, kind of like paving stones. And, uh, this has people speculating about their source. Uh, I-I don't think we have any real answers but, uh, all the other landing sites, the rocks are typically rounded. And-and, uh, these look to have a different character. So, of course, it leads you to think maybe they're sedimentary rocks. But until we actually have a-a chance to analyze the soil samples -- the soil comes from the rocks, after all -- so, you know, the-they're not unrelated -- and, uh, we'll be able to, uh, make an assessment at that time.

Craig Covault:              And just following, have, uh, any of the science guys raised the idea, uh, with a particular rock to just manipulate it a little bit later on [with] the, uh, scoop?

Peter Smith:                  Uh, they're all anxious to turn over a rock, believe me. We've-we've got one in mind that-that's right there in the -- in the digging area, and we could flip that one over, I assume. And-and, uh, I know the-the wet chemistry scientists are really interested in if there's salts under the rock, because that's where you would find them in places like Antarctica.

Craig Covault:              Okay, thank you.

Jane Platt:                     Let's go now to the Planetary Society and Emily Lakdawalla.

Emily Lakdawalla:         Hi. Uh, first a quick question. I'm wondering, uh, the temperatures that you're reporting -- are they measured at the top of the mast? And if so, how do temperatures on the ground differ? And also, in the images, I've been noticing little clods of dirt appearing all over the deck. I'm wondering if the Phoenix, uh, deck is just going to be covered with dirt by the time this mission is over.

Peter Smith:                  Well, that's one of the reasons -- the second question, uh -- well, let me start with the first one. That's, uh, where is the temperature measured? Yes, our mast is on the deck. It's up -- it goes up about a meter. And we have not measured surface temperature. We've only measured, uh, the [thermo-couples]. There's three at [heights rim], I think, uh, about a meter above the deck to, uh, maybe almost 2 meters -- I'm sorry, above the surface -- a meter above the surface to about 2 meters over the surface.

                                    And the temperature at the top of the mast is the coldest, and the bottom the hottest. And of course, the hottest one is right next to the deck itself. And so, that's probably got some, uh, extra heat coming from the spacecraft. So, we do see a gradient in temperature, and we see late in the afternoon there's a, uh, a lot of fluctuation in the temperatures as kind of stills of heat blow by the Lander. And so, it goes hot, cold, hot, cold very rapidly. So, that means that we have an active zone -- in other words, you're heating the surface air;  hot air is rising, and cool air is coming down to replace it, and you're getting, uh, convective stills.

                                    Uh, the surface temperature we're anxious to determine, but we haven't actually got our probe, uh, pushed into the surface yet to measure it. What was the second question?

Emily Lakdawalla:         Uh, dirt on the deck.

Peter Smith:                  Uh, the dirt on the deck. Yes, this is another reason why we're spending an extra day with the-the digging and delivery, uh, test, is apparently some of the material's stuck in the scoop, and when we went up to take a picture using the Robotic Arm camera, the scoop has to be retracted, or otherwise the camera will only see the scoop. And apparently some material was dropped out of the scoop at that point. So, we really need to be a little more careful about taking pictures with this Robotic Arm to make sure the scoop's actually empty. Now why the material's sticking to the scoop, I'm not sure.

Emily Lakdawalla:         Thank you.

Jane Platt:                     Okay. We have a few people who've been waiting a bit to ask a question. So, we will call on you. Uh, let's get to Alicia Chang from Associated Press.

Alicia Chang:                Hi, Peter. Uh, is the main reason why you're doing this second, uh, dig and dump, is it because of the fact that, uh, you know, the -- not all the material that you wanted was able to-to be -- to get out of the scoop?

Peter Smith:                  Uh, no. It's -- there was enough questions about our first attempt at digging and dumping that we really felt a little uneasy in-in using one of our ovens until we had a better grasp of this process. Uh, we weren't sure we were finding the, uh, dumpsite right away. It took a while, and people were getting nervous about that. So, uh, time was going by, and we had to get our-our sequences written for the next Sol. And-and, uh, it just seemed like we weren't quite ready, and so we took the cautious approach and we said, "Let's do this one more time, and really feel like we understand how to get the sample we want and deliver it to the place we want it to go to."

                                    The idea of material in the scoop came from what Emily was saying. There appears to be some new pieces on the deck that came out of that scoop, where we thought the scoop would've been empty.

Alicia Chang:                And is this second dig and dump going to be in the same general area, as well?

Peter Smith:                  Yes, it certainly will. And when I left last night -- I had to leave a little early so I could actually be here today and be conscious of, uh -- they were talking about digging a little deeper in the same location. So, that should be quite interesting to see what's uncovered.

Alicia Chang:                Thank you.

Jane Platt:                     We're going to take a question now from Ken [Kramer] of SpaceFlight Magazine.

Ken Kramer:                Hello, Peter. Thank you. I think it's a great mission that's a scientist's delight. 

Jane Platt:                     Ken, can you speak up a little bit?

Ken Kramer:                Yes, hi. Peter, thank you. It's a great mission, and I think this is a scientist's delight. Can you hear me now?

Peter Smith:                  Yes. Uh, you're loud and clear.

Ken Kramer:                Great, okay. What I'd like to talk to you about -- a couple questions -- is about your strategy with TEGA and MECA. I'd like to know how many samples you're going to take for each, and how will you decide to take the succeeding samples? [Are] you-you're going to be looking for some kind of different in composition. I wonder if you could -- if you could go a little bit into that.

Peter Smith:                  Yeah. Our mission plan was well-described, uh, early in the mission as we put together our requirements as to what we needed to do on Mars. We couldn't change the fact that we have eight TEGA cells, and that's it. They're one-use only, so we can only get eight samples. And the MECA wet chemistry has four cells, so we get four samples only for wet chemistry. And, uh, the MECA optical microscope gives us 10 samples. So, we're rich there. We can take lots of microscopic [images].

                                    Uh, as far as the strategy for when you use one over another, we're trying to use the same location as much as possible. It'd be nice if we could use exactly the same scoop hole to put in the three different, uh, instruments on the deck, but that's not really possible. So, we deliver three samples from the same area, maybe slightly displaced, so it looks to us, and for all we can tell, that we're getting the same sample.

                                    We want to do the surface; we want to do kind of a-a mid-depth, maybe several inches below the surface; and then we want, uh, material from the -- just above the ice layer. I'm assuming we're going to find the ice layer; that looks pretty positive right now. And then finally, for TEGA only, we can take samples of the ice itself, and, uh, put it into a TEGA oven. Uh, we don't typically put it into MECA, because MECA's going to add water anyways. So, ice is not something they need to see, or would know it was there. So, uh, those are the-the ideas we -- surface, mid-mid-depth, and then as far as we can dig, which is down to a hard ice layer -- and just above, and the ice itself.

Ken Kramer:                Okay.

Peter Smith:                  Does that-that help?

Ken Kramer:                Yes, thank you. Could I -- could I ask another question? Uh, I'm wondering on the mass spec, what-what is the limit on the molecular weight, if there is any?

Peter Smith:                  Yeah, there is one. It's, uh, somewhere around 150, as I remember -- 160. I think xenon is the highest molecular weight we can get to.

Ken Kramer:                150 to 160.

Peter Smith:                  Yeah. There's an exact number. I just don't have it right on the top of my head right now.

Ken Kramer:                Okay. And also, I was wondering, how-how long is Phoenix operating each day? It hasn't been quite clear. You're talking about morning and evening. Are you talking about 12 hours a day, or-or what? How much power do you have, especially -- how could you compare it to the Rovers?

Peter Smith:                  Uh, our-our going-in position on operating hours was 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. That's where we started. That's what we planned. But because our power situation is so much better than we expected, we're tilted -- uh, hardly tilted at all, we're basically parallel to the ground with our solar panel. Uh, the atmospheric opacity, in other words, the amount of dust in the atmosphere is low. And we've got lots of power. We've got both batteries working. Uh, the solar rays are fully deployed.

                                    So, we're in a really power-positive state here. And, so now we're talking about extending our day from more like 8-8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. So, we're adding hours both at the beginning and ending of the day. So, this is, uh, going to allow us to do a lot more. And also, we have more, uh, communications passes from the orbiters. And so, we're getting more data than we expected. So, a lot of the blocks are being rewritten to have less compression in the images, taking more images, and, uh, really trying to, uh, gather our science data faster than we thought we would be able to.

Jane Platt:                     Okay, thanks. The next question is coming from New Scientist, and that's [Unintelligible]. 

Male Voice:                  Hi, Peter. Uh, my question is just, uh, how do the, uh, the scoops that Phoenix is making on Mars compare to the test scoops that were, uh, done here on Earth, if-if there were test scoops done here, uh, when Phoenix when still on Earth? Was it -- is it more difficult, or are you running into any, uh, difficulties that you didn't expect? 

Peter Smith:                  Well, we-we have been using the Arm here for nearly two years now in our-our simulated Mars environment at the University of Arizona. And, uh, really, I-I think it's very similar so far to what we experienced in our simulated soil environment. We are -- we could push down on the surface -- if you saw that first interaction with the surface, the footprint --

Male Voice:                  Uh-huh.

Peter Smith:                  -- you can actually look at that high-resolution image, and you can see the, uh, the heads of the screws that are used to hold the scoop together. I mean, the material really holds a pattern in it. It's a very fine-grained cohesive material. And the sidewall on that, uh, scoop we dug today, and the-the footprint, uh, image, is very sharp. So, it's a cohesive material. And that's just exactly the kind of material we were using here in our lab. Now, it does clump up more than the material we're used to, so it makes clods. It's what, uh, Ray [Arbetson] calls "indurated," if that's a word that helps you. In other words, it's somewhat cemented --

Male Voice:                  Uh-huh.

Peter Smith:                  -- and, uh, maybe with salts or-or some other materials that are holding it together. So, it's, uh -- you know, you can form, uh, dirt clods with it.

Male Voice:                  All right. Thank --

Peter Smith:                  So, anyway, it's very similar to what we're used to. We expect to be able to dig down -- I think we've gone 5 centimeters already in the scoop depth, and we could probably get down another 5 centimeters, I guess. But at some point, we're going to hit the, uh, ice table, and that's where we'll be, uh, limited, because scraping through solid ice is very difficult at these temperatures, and we're not prepared to dig deep into ice.

Male Voice:                  Thanks.

Jane Platt:                     We're going to take a question now from Sally [Rail] of the Planetary Report.

Sally Rail:                     Hi, it's Sally Rail with the Planetary Society. Uh, Peter, I'm first of all very happy to hear that Phoenix is now working almost as hard we as humans are here. Uh, and I also want to -- we spoke about the -- you're going to do the sample acquisition tomorrow. Yesterday we talked about Papa Bear, Mama Bear, and Baby Bear. Have you honed in any closer to which one, or where that will be exactly, that sample acquisition to be taken?

Peter Smith:                  Well, those are still the leading, uh, candidates for where we'll dig. In other words, just to the right, we'll dig -- we'll collect three samples in a row right to the right of where our, uh, our scoop -- uh, what do you call it? Anyway, the-the divot that we took with our scoop yesterday, we'll be just three steps to the right of that for our three samples. That's the latest.

Sally Rail:                     Thank you.

Jane Platt:                     All right. Uh, we have a couple people who were standing by to ask follow-up questions. I just wanted to remind everyone if you do have a question, please press star one, so the operator can get you lined up in the queue. Uh, we're going to go back right now to Craig Covault of Aviation Week.

Craig Covault:              Yeah, [hi] again. A couple of quick ones on engineering things. Uh, anything new from MRO on Electra? And secondly, uh, looking at the surface here beside the footpad, uh, closest to Snow Queen, there's a spring lying there in the dirt, and I assume it was supposed to fall off, but just curious.

Peter Smith:                  Uh, I-I don't have any more information about Electra. It's-it's working -- uh, I think 90 percent of the time when we use it, and 10 percent of the time it has a problem. So, just what the problem is is an area of active, intense investigation. And, uh, hopefully we'll find an answer very soon and be able to correct that problem, and then we can have a lot of confidence in using MRO as a communication satellite. Right now we're a little scared to depend on it, so we-we're using a lot of the Odyssey over-flights. But we still are using MRO. So, it-it's working most of the time, [let's] say.

                                    Uh, let's see. The little spring that fell off, it's not clear whether it's a spring or a pin. It doesn't look like a screw exactly. But, uh, nobody's laying claim to that spring. And it-it obviously came from the spacecraft, but most-most spacecraft parts are designed not to drop things. That's usually a bad idea in-in spaceflight environments, to let things float free around you. So, uh, it might have been -- I-I don't even know how to speculate about what it might be.

                                    We've asked -- the spacecraft team says, "Well, that probably came from the Science [Payload]." And if you go to the Science Payload people, they say, "Absolutely not. There's no way that anything could've dropped off of our experiment." So, we're trying to get somebody to fess up here, but they're-they're kind of reluctant.

Craig Covault:              Okay, thanks.

Jane Platt:                     Let's go to the Washington Post, and David Brown.

David Brown:               Yeah. Uh, thanks again, and sorry if this is a question that everyone knows the answer to. Can you give me some sense of the scale we're talking about? Are these samples, you know, teaspoon size, uh, bits of, uh, of Martian earth material? Uh, and also, how big is the, uh, the orifice of the ov-oven door, you know, assuming the door opens all the way -- you know, how many inches across?

Peter Smith:                  Yeah. The-the scoop itself is about 8 centimeters wide. So, if you look at a picture of the scoop, which we released I think a day or two ago, you can see the clods in there. And if you think the width is 8 centimeters, you get an idea that they're 1 or 2 centimeters in size, I think. Maybe some are a little larger. Uh, now the, uh, the TEGA opening is I think about 2 inches wide, and the -- and the little doors make it even a little bigger.

                                    So, we have a-a kind of a little trough down the middle of the scoop that guides the-the soil into a-a thin stream, so it goes right into the middle of that, uh, grid that it pours onto. There's a little screen that keeps the bigger materials from getting in, and only the small, uh, less than 1-millimeter size material can actually get into the oven. So, as the material streams by the screen, some of it's going to get scraped off, go into the screen, and get, uh, entrained into a little, uh, trough there that guides it through a little opening, and it pours into the oven.

David Brown:               That's great. Thanks a lot.

Jane Platt:                     Okay. I'm going to go back to the Chicago Tribune, uh, Jeremy. And I should've asked you earlier if I'm pronouncing your name correctly -- Manier?

Jeremy Manier:             That's exactly right.

Jane Platt:                     Okay, good. Thanks. Go ahead with your question.

Jeremy Manier:             Thanks a lot. I mean, I-I just -- this is kind of silly, but, I mean, I wondered if-if there was a really pithy way you could -- you could describe the challenge of-of trying to get this maneuver right of-of getting the-the stuff that you dig out into the right place? It's almost like you're working blind from hundreds of millions of miles away with, you know, a couple times a day, it sounds like, when you have to actually sort of guide the actions of this thing. I mean, uh, is there a way you think in your own head of-of the sort of challenge of doing that, and the fact you only have, you know, a certain number of chances to get it right?

Peter Smith:                  Well, it's like explaining to someone over the telephone how to tie their shoe. Really-really tricky, because you-you have to give them all the steps, and then you can't quite tell what they're doing. And so, uh, we-we tell the Arm what it needs to think about, and-and where the surface is, and what motor motions it has to do to get there. But it's only, uh, six or eight hours later that we see what it's done. So, uh, there's no joystick here. We have a real handicap being 170 million miles away. We can't make quick corrections. We-we think we know what we're doing. We-we send out our commands, and then it's not quite what we thought it was. So, we're still in the learning phase here, and it's-it's a little tricky.

Jeremy Manier:             Thanks.

Jane Platt:                     Next question from the Tucson Citizen and Alan Fischer.

Alan Fischer:                Hello, Peter. You've been talking about taking three samples from a very close-close together areas and so forth. One will go to, uh, TEGA, of course. Are you ready to, uh, be delivering samples to the, uh, MECA optical microscope in the chemistry lab yet?

Peter Smith:                  Yeah. Those are both viable options. Uh, we're pretty much prepared for accepting either one of those, uh, as the time comes. We-we would deliver a first sample to TEGA. I think we have the biggest, uh, acceptance port, uh, on the TEGA ovens, and that gives us a really good chance of building our confidence, you know, that we know what we're doing, and we can assess the whole delivery process and see if we're right on or a little off. And then we go to the more challenging deliveries, to, uh, the MECA instrument. So, I think MECA's ready to go, as far as I know. That's what they said last night, anyway. And so, uh, I think we're allowed to deliver to either the wet chemistry or the microscope.

Alan Fischer:                Thank you.

Jane Platt:                     Next question, we're going to go to Popular Mechanics, and Kevin Hall.

Kevin Hall:                   Uh, hi. Kevin Hall, Popular Mechanics. Thanks for taking my question, Peter. Uh, you've been talking a bit about the, uh, the ice -- the possible ice; it could be salt. Uh, could you just briefly go over how, uh, you would go about getting a sample of the ice, since you talked about you couldn't scrape through an ice table, and, uh, what-what exactly you'd be looking for, uh, when you spoke about organic materials, uh, that might point toward life?

Peter Smith:                  Uh, yeah. I'm glad you asked about sampling ice. This is something that bothered us for quite a long time, and we actually added a, uh -- what we call a [RASP]. It's-it's like a-a cylindrical file. In other words, we spin the RASP, and we push it into the-the ice, and we're using the back of the scoop to do this. So, as the RASP spins into the ice, it throws chips out into the back of the scoop. And those chips then can be delivered into the instruments on the deck, particularly TEGA.

                                    So, we're very sure that this RASP is capable of getting into even the hardest ice. We've certainly tested it with, uh, icy soil, cooled down to minus 90 centigrade. So, it's very similar to what we might expect on Mars. And we had no trouble at all getting samples of that ice. So, we're very prepared to get samples of the ice. Now, scraping your way through solid ice is-is a very difficult thing to do, as you probably know if you've lived in the north on the Earth. Ice is extremely hard, and even backhoes have trouble getting through it. So, uh, we're-we're fully prepared to sample that. And your other question?

Kevin Hall:                   Uh, just, uh, what-what specifically you would be looking for? Uh, [crosstalk]?

Peter Smith:                  [Crosstalk] organic [unintelligible]?

Kevin Hall:                   Yeah.

Peter Smith:                  Well, I-I guess our -- my-my, uh, expectation is we have a chance of seeing the organic materials brought in by asteroids and comets, and we have a kind of a list of organic materials that have been discovered in these objects. And we don't see them directly, because our mass spectrometer has an ionization chamber that actually breaks these things apart, and ionizes little pieces that come off of these molecules.

                                    And so, we-we get the-the pieces into the magnetic -- uh, the, uh, mass spectrometer, and, uh, we have to make inferences after that as whether it's a protein or amino acid, or, you know, some complex chain of organic -- it's-it's very hard for us to be specific about which organics they might be. What we're going to learn actually is whether they're complex organics or not. In other words, long chains of carbon. Uh, and if that's the case, then we consider that either a food source or building blocks for potential biology.

Kevin Hall:                   Thanks very much. Uh, sorry for the beep.

Jane Platt:                     Okay. The next question -- uh, back to Emily Lakdawalla of the Planetary Society.

Emily Lakdawalla:         Just a quick one. The images I was seeing last night were coming down at midnight. What time are you showing up for work now?

Peter Smith:                  Our shift starts tonight at 10:45.

Emily Lakdawalla:         Yikes. Thanks.

Peter Smith:                  I'm here a little early. [Laughs]

Jane Platt:                     Okay. Uh, next question from David Perlman, San Francisco Chronicle.

David Perlman:             Hi, folks. Uh, Peter, you started to talk about organics as most likely coming from, uh, asteroids or perhaps comets. And then you mentioned something about more complex organics. At first I thought you were a big panspermia man, but, uh, now with the mention of very complex organics -- which I, first of all, want to know -- can TEGA or any of the other instruments, uh, detect them, and [(b)] might that indicate that they had been on Mars for a long time, perhaps [de novo]? What's your feeling?

Peter Smith:                  Uh, TEGA has limitations when it comes to long carbon chains. As I pointed out earlier, there's -- uh, the-the highest mass that we can, uh, measure is I think 150 --

David Perlman:             Yeah.

Peter Smith:                  -- somewhere around 150. Now, complex organic materials, like those that make up the cells in our body, might be 700, 800, 1,000 atomic mass. So, we're only going to see the pieces that break off of these things, even if they were there. So, we won't know, "Is that a protein? Is that DNA? Is that lipids? Is" -- you know? Out of the whole range of organic chemistry, we'll just be saying, "There's a lot of organic material of complex nature," and that's probably the most definite statement we'll be able to make about the-these, uh, organics.

                                    So, that doesn't give you much of a clue as to, you know, the source of these things. So, I-I think we would be testing -- I-I think -- I-I pointed out earlier the temperature at which they come off is helpful in understanding what this material is, too, because, uh, the biologic material on Earth tends to degrade at 300, 400 C, and the stuff from asteroids may be 700. But that's not total proof, you know? And it's going to be hard to convince people you've found biological organics on Mars. In fact, it would be hard to convince ourselves.

                                    So, I think our-our greatest expectation if we see a signature of organics is first, that it came from the Earth and we brought it with us, and boy, was that dumb, and let's make sure we really are seeing something on Mars; and the second thing is it's probably from asteroids and comets that we know brought, uh, organic materials to Mars. But that can create a habitable zone by itself. It doesn't have to be biologic organic material.

David Perlman:             Okay, thanks.

Jane Platt:                     Okay. And before we, uh, go to our next question and get ready to wrap things up, I just want to do a quick last call. If you do have a question and you want to press star one, we'll, uh, try to get to you. Uh, as a reminder, the next media event -- tomorrow we're planning a televised Phoenix media briefing, and that's on the schedule for 11 a.m. Pacific time, which is also 11 a.m. Arizona time. And we also are planning another media telecon like this for Thursday at 11. Uh, check the Web site for the latest schedule info. And let's go to a question now from Astrobiology Magazine and Henry Bortman.

Henry Bortman:            Hi, Peter. Uh, just want to follow up on this organic question, not surprisingly. So, suppose there are a couple of Martian equivalents of bacterial spores in some sample that you scoop up, and you heat the stuff up, and you start measuring what comes off of it. Is there any way that that's going to look different than -- other than this temperature thing that you've mentioned previously -- than if you've got organics from asteroids and comets?

Peter Smith:                  You know, that's a-a very hard question to answer, because a lot of the material in, uh, your putative, uh, microbe there is-is similar to what comes from asteroids and comets, uh, once you break it down in our mass spectrometer. So, it's not clear that you'll have a unique signature where you could say yes or no. Uh, I'm not sure we know enough about asteroids and comets to know the full range of materials that come off of them. So, I-I think you're getting into a very difficult area there, when you're trying to claim that there's a Martian biology that you're seeing. Uh, very likely, we won't be able to make that kind of claim, uh, no matter what we see in this oven.

                                    Uh, the other thing is if you're seeing -- if you're trying to make an extraordinary claim, like you've discovered life on Mars, which is I think very unlikely for our mission, then you're going to need more evidence than one organic signature in, uh -- out of an oven. You're going to have to see something under the microscope. Uh, maybe the chemistry's going to look different. There-there's -- it may be the colors are different as you get down to the ice. You know, it's all kinds of extra clues you would need to make that kind of a case. And, uh, so far, we haven't seen anything of that sort.

Jane Platt:                     Let's take a question now from SpaceFlight Magazine and Ken Kramer.

Ken Kramer:                Uh, kind of wanted to follow up on that. Yes, with the microscope, you could see bacteria with the optical force microscope -- is that right?

Peter Smith:                  Uh, potentially. I think that's extremely unlikely. And I'm not sure we'd know if it was a bacteria if we saw it. Uh, the mic -- the AFM is, uh -- the Atomic Force Microscope is really designed for looking at the surfaces of grains of-of soil to try and understand their origin. In other words, do they have conchoidal fractures? Do they have -- are they rounded or angular? And that tells us something about their -- whether they were formed in, uh -- through the action of water, or wind, or that sort of thing. So, we really haven't explored the idea of seeing bacteria or anything with that -- with the Atomic Force Microscope. It's very unlikely.

Ken Kramer:                Is-is that limited to four uses, or can you use that more, the optical [unintelligible]?

Peter Smith:                  Uh, no. That-that-that's a multi-use instrument.

Ken Kramer:                So, you'll be using that repeatedly throughout the-the mission, then?

Peter Smith:                  That's correct.

Ken Kramer:                Uh, that's excellent. I got one other quick question. There's a rock that looks like -- on-on-on the left-hand side, nex-next to where you scoop, close to the Lander.

Peter Smith:                  Uh-huh.

Ken Kramer:                It sort of looks like it's been pushed aside.

Peter Smith:                  Yeah.

Ken Kramer:                Uh, is-is that what you guys think?

Peter Smith:                  Yeah, it certainly is. It has a track behind it, doesn't it?

Ken Kramer:                Yes.

Peter Smith:                  And, uh, clearly the thrusters have somehow pushed that rock, and I-I'm not quite sure how, because it's not in a straight radial line away from the spacecraft. It kind of takes a turn and goes to the left. Very interesting. We've all noticed it and wondered about it.

Ken Kramer:                Can the scoop reach that?

Peter Smith:                  Yes. Yes, it can.

Ken Kramer:                Okay, thank you.

Peter Smith:                  Suggesting we should do something there?

Ken Kramer:                Yes, absolutely. Well, it's better than turning over the rock. You've already moved the soil underneath -- although maybe the ice sublimated by now. I don't know.

Peter Smith:                  [Laughs] I don't know about that. It takes a while. This is solid ice, if that's what we're seeing.

Jane Platt:                     Okay. It looks as though we have one more question, and that is from David Brown at the Washington Post. David?

David Brown:               Yeah, thanks again. Uh, can you just talk a little bit about this -- when-when you talk about some of these carbon compounds as potentially pre-biotic, does that mean that they could be, uh, sort of source materials for, uh, you know, like food for bacteria that might be eating there, or they're, uh -- or when you say pre-biotic, it means that they basically, uh, have nothing to do with life, and exist long before there ever was any life, or ever can be life?

Peter Smith:                  Yeah. I-I think, uh, your second statement there is probably right. These are organic materials, carbon-based materials, that form in space on, uh, dust grains, uh, and certain, uh, gas -- dust clouds, uh, around stars. And they've formed over the-the lifetime of the universe, and they get sprayed out around, you know, the-the Milky Way or other galaxies, I'm sure, and certainly are part of the formation of our planet. So, these are organic materials that you would find as part of the composition of-of-of the planets in the solar system. And, uh, if that's part of the origin of life, then that-that may be the case. I'm not sure. It certainly is a food source.

Jane Platt:                     Okay.

Peter Smith:                  There's not a whole lot known about the origin of life, so it's hard to tell you how they fit in.

David Brown:               Right, okay.

Jane Platt:                     All right. Well, that, uh, wraps it up for today. Uh, thank you, Peter, in Arizona for, uh, joining us, and, uh, spending the last hour with us. It seems that we had some really interesting questions today from-from the reporters online. And, uh, thank you also to Johnny Cruz at the University of Arizona. Again, this telecon will be archived online shortly at And it will also be available by phone for seven days, as I mentioned, at 1-800-294-0358; internationally, 402-220-9749.

                                    A lot of, uh, Phoenix images and information online at, and at If there -- you have any more questions, uh, feel free to call us at the JPL Media Relations Office, 818-354-5011. Thanks to everybody who took part. Uh, have a good day. But I guess actually since we're talking about Mars, I should sign off by saying, "Have a good Sol."

Related Links
› NASA Phoenix site

› University of Arizona Phoenix site

› JPL on Facebook and Twitter

› Landing Press Kit (3Mb - PDF)

› Launch Press Kit (6.5Mb - PDF)

› Mission Fact Sheet (244Kb - PDF)

› NASA Mars Exploration site

› NASA/JPL Landing Blog

Other Missions at Mars
› Mars Exploration Rovers

› JPL's Rover News and Image

› Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

› Mars Odyssey

› Mars Express

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