Can You Dig It?
This young man is analyzing his sample of "Martian soil" with a magnifying glass.
(Credit: Tammy Plotner)

Can you dig it?

The Phoenix Lander is digging in Martian dirt. While the act of scooping up soil might seem somewhat simple - Peter Smith, the mission's lead scientist, likened it to a child digging in sand at a beach - the lander executes all of its actions without any real-time control on Earth, meaning mission planners can only program a command sequence and wait to see what the lander does. "We're doing it blind from 170 million miles away," Smith said, "so it's taking a little expertise."

Back here on planet Earth, amateur astronomers are bringing it all back home with some of these comments.

The Astronomical Society of Northern New England's Joan Chamberlin stated: "I organized Space Day for my entire school district again this year. We brought a portable planetarium to show the kids some constellations, how to find the North Star and slides about the Mars Phoenix Mission. They loved being in the portable planetarium. It was so exciting for them. These kids were really into it."

Marni Berendsen of the Mount Diablo Astronomical Society said: "Several visitors were very excited by their quick understanding of how to read the Solar System diagram with all the planets placed in their current positions. At one point a little boy of about five came running up to the banner saying, 'I know what that is! The planets - there's Saturn and there's Mars and there's...'"

Tammy Plotner of Warren Rupp Observatory comments: "With Phoenix so hot in the news, our big presentation for the evening was all about Mars and how we are exploring the far reaches of our Solar System. The Strange New Worlds Activity was directly related to Mars and I loved the kids' enthusiastic reaction!"

Want to find out where the Phoenix is digging; or to find Mars in the night sky for that matter? Find your local astronomy club here. Can you dig it?