Nasa solves Martian soil problem

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Nasa scientists controlling the Phoenix Mars probe have successfully solved the problem of lumpy Martian soil which has held up analysis of samples for a few days..

The scoop on the end of the robotic arm is now being used to deliver soil directly to the Thermal and Evolve-Gas Analyser, an array of ovens which heat the samples so that the gases they give off can be analysed for organic compounds.

Previously the lumpy Martian soil was refusing to fall through the sieve-like screen into the ovens.

The dirt was eventually shaken off the scoop yesterday by activating an electric rasp on the arm. This will be deployed in another sample-gathering exercise planned for later in the mission to shave ice off rocks.

Nasa has said that in future it will use the blades fitted to the scoop to chop up the soil samples before they are loaded into the instrument suite.

More soil samples are due to be gathered later this week and placed under a microscope.

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