Goodbye Nasa’s Phoenix Mars lander

Goodbye Nasa's Phoenix Mars lander

New images from NASA would suggest that the end really is nigh for their Mars Phoenix lander, which appears to have broken apart during the Red Planet’s fierce winter.

The static explorer –  which had been studying Mars’ “high Arctic” – lost contact with Earth in late 2008 and it seems to have come to a chilly end after being covered by carbon dioxide ice, causing its panels to bend and buckle under the weight.

Photo evidence

NASA had said from the start that the mission would be destroyed in such harsh conditions, and new photos from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter show a much smaller Phoenix outline, indicating catastrophic damage.

Michael Mellon of the University of Colorado in Boulder – a scientist involved in both the Phoenix and the HiRISE camera on the Orbiter – commented on the photos:

(The ) before and after images are dramatically different.

The lander looks smaller, and only a portion of the difference can be explained by accumulation of dust on the lander, which makes its surfaces less distinguishable from surrounding ground.

A plucky survivor

The Phoenix mission had already exceeded expectations, landing on the planet on 25th May 2008, with a scheduled working life of just three months.

Goodbye Nasa's Phoenix Mars lander

In the end it survived for a whole five months, digging, baking and sniffing the Martian soil and becoming the first mission to Mars to make ‘contact’ with water after it found water-ice it just below the topsoil.

Here’s how NASA sum up the lander’s achievements:

During its mission, Phoenix confirmed and examined patches of the widespread deposits of underground water ice detected by Odyssey and identified a mineral called calcium carbonate that suggested occasional presence of thawed water. The lander also found soil chemistry with significant implications for life and observed falling snow. The mission’s biggest surprise was the discovery of perchlorate, an oxidizing chemical on Earth that is food for some microbes and potentially toxic for others.

RIP Phoenix.


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