Phoenix lander scoops up Martian soil

Phoenix lander scoops up Martian soil

Phoenix lander scoops up Martian soil

Updated 19 December 2011, 15:38 AEDT

The American space module, Phoenix lander has scooped up its first, cup-sized sample of Martian dirt for analysis.

NASA scientists say the mission is searching for water or signs of life.

The soil was scraped from the surface of Mars by the lander's robotic arm and will be deposited into the craft's Thermal and Evolved Gas Analyzer for study over the next week or so.

The small sample includes a large Martian dirt clod crusted with white matter that intrigues the scientists because they believe it could be salt left behind by evaporated water or ice.

The detection of subsurface water on Mars in 2002 by the Odyssey spacecraft prompted the Phoenix mission.