The robotic arm camera on board the Phoenix Mars lander features the first motor-adjustable focusing system to be deployed on an inter-planetary spacecraft, Nasa has revealed.rnrnPicture credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

The robotic arm camera on board the Phoenix Mars lander features the first motor-adjustable focusing system to be deployed on an inter-planetary spacecraft, Nasa has revealed.

Scientists are now analysing photographs captured by the spacecraft, the first taken since it touched down on 25 May and revealed to the world yesterday.

Phoenix?s robotic arm camera aims to provide close-up colour images of Martian soil and ice samples that could establish whether the planet could support life.

The camera is positioned just above the ?scoop? that aims to collect samples dug by the robotic arm.

?The camera has a double Gauss lens system, a design commonly used in 35mm cameras,? explains the space agency.

?Images are recorded by a charge-coupled device (CCD) similar to those in consumer digital cameras. The instrument includes sets of red, green and blue light-emitting diodes (LEDs) for illuminating the target area.?

Nasa claims that the camera can focus down to 11mm and record images at a resolution of ?23 microns per pixel? at the closest focusing distance – allowing the camera to show details ?much finer than the width of a human hair?.

The camera is similar to one used on the failed Mars Polar Lander spacecraft but with a revamped illumination system.

Also on board Phoenix is a Surface Stereo Camera for recording panoramic views from the top of the landing vehicle. Scientists hope that the images will help them understand the geology of the area.

?Images from two cameras – situated about as far apart as a pair of human eyes – will provide three-dimensional information that the Phoenix team will use in choosing where to dig and in operating the robotic arm,? adds Nasa. Each camera incorporates a one-million-pixel CCD imaging sensor.

The Surface Stereo Camera will inspect soil and ice samples from above. It will also capture images of the spacecraft?s deck – determining the effects of Martian winds by monitoring dust accumulation.

The photos below are among the first to be captured by the Surface Stereo Camera.

Picture credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

Mars photo

Picture credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

Mars photo

Picture credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UA/Lockheed Martin

Phoenix lander instruments