One part of the Microscopy, Electrochemistry, and Conductivity Analyzer instrument for NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander is a pair of telescopes with a special wheel (on the right in this photograph) for presenting samples to be inspected with the microscopes. A horizontally mounted optical microscope (on the left in this photograph) and an atomic force microscope will examine soil particles and possibly ice particles.
The shapes and the size distributions of soil particles may tell scientists about environmental conditions the material has experienced. Tumbling rounds the edges. Repeated wetting and freezing causes cracking. Clay minerals formed during long exposure to water have distinctive, platy particles shapes.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UA
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