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Mars Lander Fills Test Oven with Pinch of Soil

The Phoenix Mars Lander has successfully filled its scientific oven with clumpy Martian soil, and scientists expect to close the door and begin their analysis within a few days.

The lander had trouble getting the oven to fill because the soil clods refused to sift through a screen over the oven's opening. After repeated attempts and a last try at vibrating the screen, they succeeded in coaxing soil through the screen and into the oven.

The tiny oven is one of eight aboard the Phoenix Mars Lander. The high-temperature ovens are part of a key scientific instrument that will analyze Martian ice and soil and determine whether organic compounds, the building blocks of life, are present.

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