30.9.2008: NEWS FROM MARS /PHOENIX: Snow falling on Mars!
Soil Data Suggest Liquid Past
September 29, 2008 NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander has detected snow falling from
Martian clouds. Spacecraft soil experiments also have provided evidence of
past interaction between minerals and liquid water, processes that occur on
A laser instrument designed to gather knowledge of how the atmosphere and
surface interact on Mars has detected snow from clouds about 4 kilometers
(2.5 miles) above the spacecraft's landing site. Data show the snow
vaporizing before reaching the ground.
"Nothing like this view has ever been seen on Mars before."
Phoenix experiments also yielded clues pointing to calcium carbonate, the
main composition of chalk, and particles that could be clay. Most carbonates
and clays on Earth form only in the presence of liquid water.
The solar system research at FMI's Research Division ís strongly
based on accurate observations performed by sophisticated instrumentation,
and advanced modelling. We have adopted a strategy to cover the full chain
of research starting from the instrument development and hardware building,
through measurements and data analysis, to the scientific interpretation
utilizing theoretical and numerical simulation methods. We spend approximately
8 man-years annually on pure technological design and manufacturing tasks,
and use various Finnish industrial subcontractors at regular basis to complement
the projects. Our main areas of expertise are sensor technology, particularly
athmospheric sensors, and microprosessors with associated flight software which
are routinely used in space and ground-based instrumentation projects.
Our expertise in space instruments dates back to year 1986 and to our first
planetary project, Phobos, which was a co-operative mission to Mars with the
former Soviet Union. From the past, other projects like PPI/HASI/HUYGENS,
MVACS/Mars Surveyor 1998, and the late Mars-96 provide a good view of FMI's
sensor activities. Currently the FMI's space research program is heavily
involved in ESA's Cometary mission, Rosetta,
which is the institute's biggest space project up to now.
Our involvement consists of 2 lander subprojects: CDMS
(Mass Memory of the Lander's Command and Data Management System) and the
PI-instrument PP (Permittivity Probe), and 4 orbiter projects: Dust analyzer
COSIMA, and the plasma instruments ICA, LAP and MIP. All of these projects
cover a wide range of application areas; from instrument manufacturing, and
software development to quality assurance tasks.
Several space programmes with FMI involvement have reached operational phase
and produce new data. ESA's planetary missions Mars Express and Venus Express
are bringing daily new data on the plasma and neutral particle environment
at these planets. The Finnish pressure sensors on Huygens collected detailed
atmospheric data during the descent through Titans dense atmosphere. The
cometary mission Stardust provided information about the dust-plasma interactions
on comets and will re-visit the Deep Impact mission's target comet Wild-2. And the plasma and dust monitor SPEDE on ESA's SMART-1 mission to
the Moon collected a wealth of information until 10 seconds before the
satellite's spectacular impact on the Moon's surface September 3, 2006. (See
End of SMART-1 mission: Impact on the Moon)
NASA's Mars mission Phoenix
landed at high latitudes of Mars in May 2008 and has already returned a
wealth of new information including detailed atmospheric pressure recordings
from FMI's sensors. FMI's pressure and humidity sensors for NASA's Mars
Science Laboratory mission were delivered in Summer 2008. The launch towards
equatorial regions of Mars is planned for 2011, followed by ESA's Exomars
mission a few years later, also with atmospheric sensors from FMI aboard.
ESA's Mercury mission BepiColombo includes 2 instrument groups with FMI
participation: the Finnish X-ray
instrument SIXS and the plasma instrument
consortium SERENA.( see ESA's
The modelling and simulation activities concentrate on planetary plasma in
the vicinity of solar system bodies, ranging from Earth and the Moon via
Mars, Venus and Saturn's moon Titan to exoplanets. Another modelling project in cooperation with
the University of Helsinki concentrates on mesoscale aspects of the Martian
The institute is located at the top of the Kumpula hill (Map location)