Has the Phoenix died?

In a previous post, I wrote about the Phoenix Mars Mission. At that time, the robotic spacecraft, which was launched in August 2007, had successfully and safely landed in the Martian arctic.

Since then, it has been taking soil samples in its surroundings – it’s not a rover, so it’s stuck where it landed. It has a robotic arm that has been collecting the soil samples and then delivering them – amazing! – to laboratory instruments onboard, which conduct experiments and microscopic analysis of the composition of the particles. It’s also been monitoring the weather conditions on Mars.

“Launched Aug. 4, 2007, Phoenix landed May 25, 2008, farther north than any previous spacecraft to land on the Martian surface. The lander dug, scooped, baked, sniffed and tasted the Red Planet’s soil. Among early results, it verified the presence of water-ice in the Martian subsurface, which NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter first detected remotely in 2002. Phoenix’s cameras also returned more than 25,000 pictures from sweeping vistas to near the atomic level using the first atomic force microscope ever used outside Earth.” (Reference)

NASA hasn’t heard from the lander since the 2nd of November, after the batteries became depleted during some dust storms; the solar panels haven’t been able to charge them again sufficiently. In the next few months, the Martian winter will set in over the arctic, and there won’t be any sunshine here, so the temperatures are expected to drop to minus-240 to minus-300 degrees Fahrenheit (sheesh!) and the Phoenix will become surrounded by carbon dioxide ice. NASA will try to revive it again in the spring, but doubt that the module will survive these conditions.

  • See article in the New York Times and more information on the Phoenix site.
  • You can also watch a moving tribute to the Phoenix here and here
  • On this page you can also find a few more video clips, all very interesting!

Isn’t this soooo cool? Makes me wish I’d become a scientist!

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