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Phoenix Lander Scratches and Probes Mars

NASA's Phoenix Lander a Success on Mars

 

Launched August 4th 2007, the Phoenix lander traveled for 10 months to get to Mars with its mission objective to study the history of water and search for the possibility of past or current life.  Phoenix was a NASA mission led by Peter Smith of the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory with participation from the Canadian Space Agency, universities across the globe, and private industry.  On its way to explore the northern hemisphere of Mars, Phoenix entered the Martian atmosphere at a staggering 13,000 miles per hour.  It took only 7 minutes to slow down from this blistering speed to 5 miles per hour just before it successfully landed.  As Phoenix descended towards the Martian surface the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter was able to take a picture of its parachute.  The incredible picture can be seen below. For comparison humans have sent 12 landers to Mars, of these Phoenix became only the 6th successful landing.  

 

The most notable discovery of Phoenix's exploration of Mars was the confirmation of water ice under the planets dusty surface.  The presence of water ice had been predicted in 2002 by the Mars Odyssey orbiter.  On June 19th the excavation arm of Phoenix disturbed what was later confirmed to be water ice on Mars.  Water ice is a vital component needed for life and is a possible resource for future human explorers to the red planet.  Below are images taken of the water ice discovered.  Sol 20 is the 20th Martian day of the mission and sol 24 represents the 24th Martian day of the mission (Days on Mars are referred to as sols and are approximately 40 minutes longer than Earth days).   

In addition to the confirmation of water ice on Mars, the Phoenix lander possessed an array of scientific instruments which allowed for the scientific exploration of the Martian atmosphere and provided information on the chemical composition of the Martian dirt.  The Canadian Space Agency provided a meteorological station to measure the temperature, pressure, and wind speed.  The lander also had a Canadian provided instrument known as LIDAR which uses lasers to measure the atmosphere, this data was the first atmosphere profile taken of another planet.  As mentioned above, the lander also had the capability to perform chemical analysis of the Martian soil thanks to a wet chemistry lab.

As the seasons changed on Mars the Phoenix lander began to slowly lose power.  The lander survived two months beyond its initial 90 day mission and sent its last transmission on November 2nd 2008 - "Triumph"

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For more detailed information about the Phoenix Lander we recommend the following sources

Extremely Detailed Wikipedia Article

Mission pages:

University of Arizona Mission PAge

NASA Mission Page

Jet Propulsion Laboratory Mission Page

NASA Factsheet for Phoenix Lander

 

 

Executive Editor
Bradley Cheetham

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