Ice and Phoenix

Image source with larger version
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

Someone who is feeling very healthy this (Earthly) morning: NASA's Phoenix, successfully landed on the Martian arctic. No ice visible yet: but that's expected to change over the next three months, culminating ultimately in the craft failing due to the intense cold, half-buried beneath perhaps a metre of carbon dioxide ice.

Image source with more information
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

The operational limit on the Mars Rovers, you may recall, was anticipated to be when their solar panels became completely covered in dust - an event that ultimately never occurred due to frequent gusts of wind. Phoenix is a stationary lander, but its own solar panels are pretty nifty: fan-like things that only gracefully unfurled once the dust thrown up during landing had settled.

Image source with more information
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

You may have noticed that Phoenix was pretty quick with the colour images compared to many missions. This is a good sign, but also a bit cheeky. Cheeky because these are 'approximate' colour images. But a good sign, I think, because rushing out some less-than-faithful colour images early shows that the folks behind Phoenix have learnt from the good example of Cassini (and the not so good example of a few other space missions) that it's important to capture the public's interest with striking imagery. Although more scientifically useful data is what will ultimately expand our knowledge (and awe) of the Solar System, it's the way these robots lend us the ability to vicariously experience its sights that makes us so eager to send them out in the first place.

The next big news from Phoenix will be once it has tried sampling the surrounding ice and permafrost, unlocking secrets about the history and habitability of the red planet.


chiya said...

*First comment dance*

I agree, scientific information is good but it's great to have a couple of pretty pictures first :)

It's neat that the robots can visit there and they don't have to worry about them going crazy/dying.

LuluBunny said...

I watched the landing on the Science channel - sort of stumbled upon it and then couldn't help myself. This is the first space related endeavor I'm actually excited about in a LONG time ... I can hardly wait to find out what they find out :)

Geosomin said...

I'm so glad it made the landing well...I'm looking forward to having another spacebot to watch and peek at photos from...:)
I still giggle when I think "those images are of Mars. Freaking Mars! Gleep!".
Good time to be a geek...

Bobby said...

I wonder how far they are from being able to set up relays on Mars or other planets or other planets' moons. If they could plant a device that can receive and then relay signal...couldn't they send probes even further than they go now I wonder. Just set up sprawling networks of relays...expanding ever further out into space, you know?

Pacian said...

@C: But they do go crazy and die. We just don't care about it. T_T

@L: Not even Cassini?!

@G: Where?! You're kidding! O_O

@B: It's not actually that difficult to receive and send transmissions through space - although the Mars landers do generally use the Mars orbiters as relays. The chief limiting factor in how far we send things is that we have to send them a long way. The furthest probes are the Voyagers and Pioneers, still just on the edge of the Solar System after over thirty years.