The Phoenix has landed!

The Phoenix lander module has arrived safely on Mars.

The Phoenix, which was launched in August 2007, is a robotic spacecraft on a space exploration mission to Mars. The mission has two primary purposes. The first is to research the history of water on the planet and to find out why the climate there has changed. The second is to search for microbial life to ascertain whether the ice-rich soil in the arctic areas of Mars may be habitable.

The Phoenix is not a rover, but a fixed lander. It landed in the northern hemisphere, in the ‘Green Valley of Vastitas Borealis’. It is intended to stay there for 90 sols (Martian days), which is just more than 92 Earth days. It is expected that a thick layer (up to 3 feet) of polar ice (solid carbon dioxide ice) will develop in the vicinity of the lander, and scientists want to study how this happens. However, the lander will most likely not survive through the winter.

There’s an interesting video animation available on APOD of 25 May 2008 – just click on the picture. Bear in mind that this is not a video clip of what really happened, but an artist’s impression of what is supposed to happen. The Phoenix will fly through the Martian atmosphere, deploy its braking parachute, jettison its glowing heat shield, fire its thrusters and land on the surface of Mars. Then it will deploy the instruments it carries on board, take soil samples and start to analyse these. Apparently, it did in fact land successfully and is sending back some awesome data and pictures.

You can learn more about the mission on the official Phoenix Mars Mission website and on the NASA website.

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