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NASA spots dusty grave of its lonely Phoenix Mars lander

The dusty grave of Nasa’s lonely Mars Phoenix probe has been revealed in new images.

The probe only spent a few months on the red planet before dying in ‘dark and cold’ conditions a decade ago.

Since it passed away, it has been covered in dust on the Martian surface.

Now, the space agency has released new pictures showing its final resting place.    

 

This animation blinks between two images of NASA’s mars Phoenix Lander hardware around the mission’s 2008 landing site on far-northern Mars. By late 2017, dust obscured much of what was visible two months after the landing. The lander is near the top; the back shell and parachute near the bottom

The Phoenix lander itself, and its back shell and parachute, are still visible in the image, which was taken on December 21, 2017. 

However, an animated-blink comparison with an image from about two months after the May 25, 2008 landing shows that patches of ground that had been darkened by removal of dust during the landing events have become coated with dust again. 

The lander stopped functioning just five months after it landed due to a lack of solar power. 

According to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, ‘the solar-powered robot was not designed to survive through the dark and cold conditions of a Martian arctic winter’.

The December 2017 image was taken by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. 

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) is a multipurpose spacecraft designed to conduct reconnaissance and exploration of Mars from orbit. 

In August 2008, Phoenix completed its three-month mission studying Martian ice, soil and atmosphere. 

An image taken two months after the May 25, 2008 landing of NASA's Phoenix Mars lander. The lander is near the top; the back shell and parachute near the bottom

The Phoenix lander itself, and its back shell and parachute, are still visible in the image, which was taken on December 21, 2017, almost ten decades after the May 25, 2008 landing

Pictured left is an image taken two months after the May 25, 2008 landing of NASA’s Phoenix Mars lander. The lander is near the top; the back shell and parachute near the bottom. Right is an image taken on December 21, 2017, showing the same site and how dust has covered some marks of the landing

An image of Mars. A recent view from Mars orbit of the site where NASA's Phoenix Mars mission landed on far-northern Mars nearly a decade ago shows that dust has covered some marks of the landing

An image of Mars. A recent view from Mars orbit of the site where NASA’s Phoenix Mars mission landed on far-northern Mars nearly a decade ago shows that dust has covered some marks of the landing

The lander worked for two additional months before reduced sunlight meant that there was insufficient energy to keep the lander functioning.  

Phoenix operated for five months before it stopped functioning, and it investigated Mars soil. 

When Phoenix mission was launched, it had two objectives, according to NASA. 

The first was to study the history of water in the Martian arctic, as water ice lurks just below ground level. 

The second objective was to search for evidence of a habitable zone and assess the biological potential of the ice-soil boundary. 

WHAT WAS NASA’S PHOENIX MISSION?  

NASA’s Phoenix Mars lander, which landed on May 25, 2008, monitored the atmosphere overhead and reached out to the soil below.  

When Phoenix mission was launched, it had two objectives, according to NASA. 

The first was to study the history of water in the Martian arctic, as water ice lurks just below ground level. 

The second objective was to search for evidence of a habitable zone and assess the biological potential of the ice-soil boundary. 

An artist's impression of the Phoenix Mars Lander. It landed on May 25, 2008, and monitored the atmosphere overhead and reached out to the soil below

An artist’s impression of the Phoenix Mars Lander. It landed on May 25, 2008, and monitored the atmosphere overhead and reached out to the soil below

Phoenix and its instruments were ideally suited to uncover clues to the geologic history and biological potential of the Martian arctic (after the mars Odyssey Orbiter’s discovery of large amounts pf subsurface water ice in the northern arctic plane).

Phoenix was the first mission to return data from either polar region providing an important contribution to the Marc science strategy ‘Follow the Water’. 

It was also instrumental in helping to achieve the four science goals of NASA’s long-term Mars Exploration Program:

  • Determine whether Life ever arose on Mars
  • Characterise the Climate of Mars 
  • Characterise the Geology of Mars
  • Prepare for Human Exploration  

Source: NASA – Phoenix Mars Lander Overview 

 

 



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