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Triumphant return to the Red Planet - now Nasa will probe what lies beneath

At first, the probe checked itself over, taking snapshots of its dusty feet and freshly unfurled solar arrays, ensuring all was present and correct following its 422m-mile journey and high-speed descent on to the northern plains of Mars in the early hours of yesterday.

Then the real work began. The robotic arm A robotic arm is a robot manipulator, usually programmable, with similar functions to a human arm. The links of such a manipulator are connected by joints allowing either rotational motion (such as in an articulated robot) or translational (linear) displacement.  flexed and swivelled, bringing the camera up and around to gaze at the alien landscape. Two hours later, Nasa's mission controllers had been sent the first pictures ever to be taken within the arctic circle Arctic Circle, imaginary circle on the surface of the earth at 66 1-2°N latitude, i.e., 23 1-2° south of the North Pole. It marks the northernmost point at which the sun can be seen at the winter solstice (about Dec.  of the red planet.

The $420m (£212m) Phoenix mission, which settled on Mars at 00.53 BST (convention) BST - British Summer Time. The name for daylight-saving time in the UK GMT time zone.  yesterday, represents a major milestone in Nasa's exploration of the solar system solar system, the sun and the surrounding planets, natural satellites, dwarf planets, asteroids, meteoroids, and comets that are bound by its gravity. The sun is by far the most massive part of the solar system, containing almost 99.9% of the system's total mass.  and its search for evidence of life elsewhere. Not since the Viking landers touched down in 1976 has a probe landed softly on the planet, using rocket thrusters to slow its descent. More significantly, Phoenix is expected to become the first spacecraft to touch water on another planet.

At Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory “JPL” redirects here. For other uses, see JPL (disambiguation).

Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a NASA research center located in the cities of Pasadena and La Cañada Flintridge, near Los Angeles, California, USA.
 in California last night, the final moments before landing were tense, but at every step the Phoenix probe matched or exceeded expectations. As it hurtled into the atmosphere, engineers foresaw a communications blackout In the military, a communications blackout occurs when a military unit decides not to use radios in an attempt to "hide" from the enemy. In more general telecommunications, as well as in military settings, communications blackouts are
 as the searing sear 1  
v. seared, sear·ing, sears

v.tr.
1. To char, scorch, or burn the surface of with or as if with a hot instrument. See Synonyms at burn1.

2.
 plasma around the probe's heat shield blocked their radio link. When the moment came, the probe kept in touch all the way down, settling at a near-perfect 0.25-degree angle in the Vastitas Borealis, an ancient plain near the north pole.

"In my dreams, it couldn't have gone as perfectly as it did," said Barry Goldstein, the project manager on the Phoenix mission. "I'm in shock. Never in rehearsal did it go so well."

Yesterday, Nasa engineers began analysing the first of the images, some showing the intriguing polygonal patterns that scar the Martian arctic. One of the probe's mission tasks is to dig beneath the frigid surface to collect water ice and soil, which will be analysed by the probe's onboard laboratory. Mission controllers will be looking for Looking for

In the context of general equities, this describing a buy interest in which a dealer is asked to offer stock, often involving a capital commitment. Antithesis of in touch with.
 signs of organic compounds in the water that could indicate that the now harsh environment was once hospitable, and even habitable habitable adj. referring to a residence that is safe and can be occupied in reasonable comfort. Although standards vary by region, the premises should be closed in against the weather, provide running water, access to decent toilets and bathing facilities, heating, .

"We see the lack of rocks that we expected, we see the polygons that we saw from space, we don't see ice on the surface, but we think we will see it beneath the surface," said Peter Smith, the principal investigator on the mission at Arizona University.

The landing marks the US space agency's first return to Mars since its twin rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, touched down in January of 2004.

"This is the first chance we have had to actually collect and analyse water on the Red Planet," said Keith Mason, head of Britain's Science and Technology Facilities Council The Science and Technology Facilities Council (or Scitech) is a UK government body that carries out civil research in science and engineering, and funds UK research in areas including particle physics, nuclear physics, space science and astronomy. .

"If we find water ice below the Martian surface we may also be able to find evidence of past life on the planet."

Over the next eight days, the probe will continue to take measurements of the Martian atmosphere and soil before using its two-metre-long robotic arm to dig down to undermine and cause to fall by digging; as, to dig down a wall.

See also: Dig
 to what lies beneath. Onboard cameras and a weather station will record information about the probe's changing environment as night turns to day and the Martian seasons turn. The mission is expected to last three months, after which the arrival of winter will see light levels fall too low to replenish the Phoenix probe's batteries.

"We're all so relieved that Phoenix has managed to land safely," said Tom Pike, head of the UK Phoenix team at Imperial College London History
Imperial College was founded in 1907, with the merger of the City and Guilds College, the Royal School of Mines and the Royal College of Science (all of which had been founded between 1845 and 1878) with these entities continuing to exist as "constituent colleges".
. "The descent and landing phase of the mission is one of the most tricky and hazardous. It's great to have made it down in one piece and now we can get to work uncovering more of the Red Planet's secrets."

The London team developed tiny silicon sheets that will hold dust and soil samples for the probe to examine with high-resolution microscopes.

Another of the probe's tasks is to monitor changes in the polar weather and how it interacts with the land and atmosphere above. In the arctic summer on Mars, scientists believe water vapour is released from ice at the polar caps and into the atmosphere.

David Catling, a scientist on the team from Bristol University, said: "Our priority now is to find out if there is ice below the dirt and whether it got there recently, or it is a frozen remnant from an ancient time when liquid water may have rippled across this part of Mars."

As the name suggests, the 350kg Phoenix probe arose from the embers of previous Mars missions, themselves failed or shelved in 1999 and 2001, but useful for their spare parts, from which the spacecraft was put together.
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Author:guardian.co.uk
Publication:guardian.co.uk
Date:May 27, 2008
Words:778
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