September 6th, 2008

Spiky Probe on NASA Mars Lander Raises Vapor Quandary

A fork-like conductivity probe has sensed humidity rising and falling beside NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander, but when stuck into the ground, its measurements so far indicate soil that is thoroughly and perplexingly dry. “If you have water vapor in the air, every surface exposed to that air will have water molecules adhere to it that are somewhat mobile, even at temperatures well below freezing,” said Aaron Zent of NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., lead scientist for Phoenix’s thermal and electroconductivity probe.
In below-freezing permafrost terrains on Earth, that thin layer of unfrozen water molecules on soil particles can grow thick enough to support microbial life. One goal for building the conductivity probe and sending it to Mars has been to see whether the permafrost terrain of the Martian arctic has detectable thin films of unfrozen water on soil particles. By gauging how electricity moves through the soil from one prong to another, the probe can detect films of water barely more than one molecule thick.

November 19th, 2004

2004-5 Mars Rover Model Competition

Deadline extended to Nov. 30 for UH Mars Rover contest applications. Grade schoolers with aspirations to build their own vehicles to explore the surface of the Red Planet have been given till Tuesday, Nov. 30, to sign up for the 2004-2005 University of Houston Mars Rover Competition. Blanketed in toxic soils, seething with powerful radiation and theorized to host no intelligent civilization, this hostile planet provides many challenges, giving Houston-area students in grades three through eight a chance to create their own homemade solutions. The results will be revealed during a parade of Mars Rover models designed and constructed to carry out a specific science mission on the surface of Mars.