One part of the MECA instrument for NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander is a pair of telescopes with a special wheel (on the right in this photograph) for presenting samples to be inspected with the microscopes.

The wet chemistry laboratory on NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander has four teacup-size beakers. This photograph shows one of them. The laboratory is part of the spacecraft's Microscopy, Electrochemistry and Conductivity Analyzer.

Each beaker will be used only once, for assessing soluble chemicals in a sample of Martian soil by mixing water with the sample to a soupy consistency and keeping it warm enough to remain liquid during the analysis.

On the inner surface of the beaker are 26 sensors, mostly electrodes behind selectively permeable membranes or gels. Some sensors will give information about the acidity or alkalinity of the soil sample. Others will gauge concentrations of such ions as chlorides, bromides, magnesium, calcium and potassium. Comparisons of the concentrations of water-soluble ions in soil samples from different depths below the surface of the landing site may provide clues to the history of the water in the soil.

Photojournal Note: As planned, the Phoenix lander, which landed May 25, 2008 23:53 UTC, ended communications in November 2008, about six months after landing, when its solar panels ceased operating in the dark Martian winter.

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