This is the closest view of the material underneath NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander. This sample was taken from the top centimeter of the Martian soil, and this image from the lander's Optical Microscope demonstrates its overall composition.
The soil is mostly composed of fine orange particles, and also contains larger grains, about a tenth of a millimeter in diameter, and of various colors. The soil is sticky, keeping together as a slab of material on the supporting substrate even though the substrate is tilted to the vertical.
The fine orange grains are at or below the resolution of the Optical Microscope. Mixed into the soil is a small amount&mdashabout 0.5 percent&mdashof white grains, possibly of a salt. The larger grains range from black to almost transparent in appearance. At the bottom of the image, the shadows of the Atomic Force Microscope (AFM) beams are visible. This image is 1 millimeter x 2 millimeters.
The Phoenix Mission is led by the University of Arizona, Tucson, on behalf of NASA. Project management of the mission is by JPL, Pasadena, Calif. Spacecraft development was by Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver.
Photojournal Note: As planned, the Phoenix lander, which landed May 25, 2008 23:53 UTC, ended communications in November 2008, about six months after landing, when its solar panels ceased operating in the dark Martian winter.