Page last updated at 00:22 GMT, Friday, 13 June 2008 01:22 UK

Phoenix starts to get some reward

Phoenix delivers soil to MECA (Nasa)
The bucket makes a fine sprinkle over MECA

The Phoenix spacecraft on Mars is finally getting to grips with the clumpy soil at its landing location.

Early efforts to grab samples for study in the onboard lab had been frustrated by the cloddy nature of the ground.

But by shaking the scoop bucket on the end of its robotic arm, Phoenix now has a very effective technique to deliver fine samples to test instruments.

Mission scientists report that Phoenix has made a very delicate dusting of material across a microscope.

This Microscopy, Electrochemistry and Conductivity Analyzer (MECA) unit can view the structure of grains at scales never before seen on Mars - down to as small as about 100 nanometres, one one-hundredth the width of a human hair.

The success in getting a good sample onto MECA comes off the back of news that a usable sample has also now finally made its way into the first of eight ovens on Phoenix.

The bucketful of cloddy soil delivered to the Thermal and Evolved Gas Analyzer (TEGA) on Saturday had stubbornly refused to go through a protective screen and into the funnel leading to the oven. By vibrating the mechanism over and over, sufficient material is now in position to be tested.

The TEGA ovens will bake and sniff the soil to assess its volatile ingredients, such as water.

Phoenix touched down successfully on Mars' northern plains on 25 May (GMT). Its Arctic location is thought to hold large stores of water-ice just below the surface.

Phoenix will carry out a three-month mission to study Mars' geological history and determine whether its landing location is - or has ever been - capable of supporting life.

Infographic, BBC
Phoenix carries seven science instruments

Mars sprinkle test yields results
11 Jun 08 |  Science/Nature
Phoenix tries shake and sprinkle
10 Jun 08 |  Science/Nature
Martian soil frustrates Phoenix
07 Jun 08 |  Science/Nature
Glitch delays Mars lander's dig
05 Jun 08 |  Science/Nature
Mars lander flexes its robot arm
29 May 08 |  Science/Nature
Mars lander is 'in good health'
27 May 08 |  Science/Nature
In pictures: Mars landing
26 May 08 |  In Pictures
Phoenix diary: Mission to Mars
09 Jun 08 |  Science/Nature

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