Subscribe to our free daily newsletters
  Mars Exploration News  

Subscribe to our free daily newsletters

UCF Invention Onboard Phoenix Mars Lander Will Reveal True Colors

The color-calibration targets help scientists figure out the colors on Mars' surface. Built-in magnets keep away the dust. Photo: Courtesy of Dan Britt.
by Staff Writers
Orlando FL (SPX) May 23, 2008
When NASA's Phoenix lander touches down on Mars Sunday, it will be carrying two special tools to give scientists their best look at the Red Planet's true colors.

They're called color-calibration targets and are about the size of hockey pucks. Each device is covered with color chips, designed by University of Central Florida Physics and Astronomy Professor Dan Britt and two students. When Phoenix's camera takes pictures of the terrain, it will also capture the calibration targets, allowing scientists to compare the colors in each photo and determine the actual hues.

Knowing the true colors allows spectroscopists, such as Britt, to determine what makes up the planet's terrain. The colors are one reason NASA says that liquid water once existed on Mars, and they help geologists analyze layers of rock deposited over thousands of years.

"Mars is a dusty place with a harsh climate," said Britt, who has worked on calibration targets for four other Mars missions. Over time, dust covered the previous targets and color chips, making it nearly impossible to decipher accurate hues.

So, for the first time, calibration targets on the Phoenix Mars have built-in magnets to repel the dust. Each magnet is about 100 times stronger than a refrigerator magnet and should keep the targets "clean" while the lander samples soils in the Martian arctic region.

While Britt created the color chips, the targets and magnets were designed by scientists from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.

The lander is expected to reach its destination May 25, after a 422-million mile trip since its launching last August. Besides Britt's targets and a camera, Phoenix is equipped with a robotic arm that scientists hope will scoop up water ice thought to be just under Mars' surface.

With past color-calibration targets, Britt and his team -- which has included a University of Florida professor and UCF students -- have helped scientists learn more about Mars' surface, which Britt says is actually yellowish-brown and not red.

Britt started creating the color chips for Phoenix about three years ago in his lab at UCF. Made of rubbery silicon and paint pigments, the color chips were embedded in an aluminum casting and tested under extreme conditions -- intense ultraviolet light and depressurization -- before they left Earth last year.

Also new on several of the Phoenix lander's color targets is a special metal-infused coating created by Britt and UF chemistry professor Randolph S. Duran. The coating also should help keep away the dust, Britt says.

About a decade ago, Britt served as project manager and Deputy Imaging Team leader for the camera on NASA's Mars Pathfinder. He also participated in NASA's Deep Space One mission to encounter comet 19P/Borrelly in 2001.

Now, he's working on fluorescent colored chips for future calibration targets for the Mars Science Laboratory rover, scheduled to launch in fall 2009. They're expected to help scientists capture infrared photos of the terrain for future analysis of the mysterious, so-called "Red Planet."

"We're doing this work to support future missions," he said. "It's always fun to build things that end up on other planets."

Email This Article
Comment On This Article

Share This Article With Planet Earth DiggDigg RedditReddit
YahooMyWebYahooMyWeb GoogleGoogle FacebookFacebook

Related Links
University of Central Florida
Phoenix at NASA
Phoenix at APL
Mars News and Information at
Lunar Dreams and more

Memory Foam Mattress Review
Newsletters :: SpaceDaily :: SpaceWar :: TerraDaily :: Energy Daily
XML Feeds :: Space News :: Earth News :: War News :: Solar Energy News

Aerojet Propulsion Gears Up For Critical Phoenix Mars Landing Maneuvers
Sacramento CA (SPX) May 22, 2008
Aerojet, Lockheed Martin and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) are counting on 12 Aerojet lander engines to smoothly land NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander onto the surface of Mars on May 25, 2008.

  • Nuclear Power In Space - Part 2
  • Outside View: Nuclear future in space
  • Nuclear Power In Space

  • X PRIZE Foundation Holds Team Summit On Private Moon Race To Land A Robot
  • Astronaut Health On Moon May Depend On Good Dusting
  • Inhaling For Exploration As Scientists Test Lunar Breathing System
  • Send Your Name To The Moon With New Lunar Mission

  • Subcommittee Passes NASA Authorization Act
  • Why Do Astronauts Suffer From Space Sickness
  • ESA And Space Tourism
  • NASA's 50th birthday marked in art exhibit

  • New Horizon Tones Green On All Beacons As Long Cruise To Pluto Continues
  • New Horizons Crosses 9 AU
  • ASU Research Solves Solar System Quandary
  • Happy Second Birthday New Horizons

  • The Little Red Spot Of Jupiter Has Lots Of Winds Blowing
  • New Red Spot Appears On Jupiter
  • Wandering Poles Leave Giant Scars On Europa's Icy Surface
  • Scientists Find Rings Of Jupiter Are Shaped In Shadow

  • Venus Express Provides First Detection Of Hydroxyl In Atmosphere Of Venus
  • Key Molecule Found In Venus Atmosphere
  • Venus Express Reboots The Search For Active Volcanoes On Venus
  • The Puzzling Eye Of A Hurricane On Venus

  • Cassini Saturn Moon Maps Will Provide Guideposts For Future Explorers
  • DLR Scientists Produce An Atlas Of Saturn's Moon Dione
  • Cassini Radar Peers Through Haze Of Saturn Moon Titan
  • Saturn Does The Wave In Upper Atmosphere

  • Self-Repairing Aircraft Could Revolutionize Aviation Safety
  • Northrop Grumman Resonating Gyro Achieves 10 Million Operating Hours In Space
  • US, China Space Debris Still Orbiting Earth
  • TerraSAR-X And NFIRE Fire Up The Pipe With Laser Data Transfer

  • The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2007 - SpaceDaily.AFP and UPI Wire Stories are copyright Agence France-Presse and United Press International. ESA Portal Reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement,agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by SpaceDaily on any Web page published or hosted by SpaceDaily. Privacy Statement