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So, what do you do on a holiday? It’s Labor Day here in the U.S., and the Phoenix lander on Mars is just watching the clouds go by across the Martian sky. This movie clip consists of 10 frames taken over a 10 minutes period by the Surface Stereo Imager on the lander. The images were actually taken on Sol 94 (August 29 here on Earth) at 2:52 to 3:02 local time at the Phoenix landing site on Mars northern polar region. Scientists say particles of water-ice make up these clouds, like ice-crystal cirrus clouds on Earth. Ice hazes have been common at the Phoenix site in recent days. But, of course, Phoenix is still hard at work on Mars, and recent images downloaded from the lander show the doors have been opened on another tiny oven on the TEGA (Thermal and Evolved Gas Analyzer), oven #1, to bake another soil sample. Other images of the scoop on the robotic arm shows soil inside on one image, and on a subsequent image, it looks as though the scoop has dumped the sample, perhaps inside the oven, or it may have been a test scoop and dumped out on the ground.
The camera took the cloud images as part of a campaign by the Phoenix team to see clouds and track winds. The view is toward slightly west of due south, so the clouds are moving westward or west-northwestward.
The clouds are a dramatic visualization of the Martian water cycle. The water vapor comes off the north pole during the peak of summer. The northern-Mars summer has just passed its peak water-vapor abundance at the Phoenix site. The atmospheric water is available to form into clouds, fog and frost, such as the lander has been observing recently.
And here are the images from Sol 96 showing the open oven and the scoop with a sample of soil inside.
Scoop with soil inside, and then dumped.
Images are from Sol 96, or August 31, 2008.
Source: Phoenix News site and Gallery