The building blocks of life might exist in Martian soil after all, according to a new study. Evidence from the late Phoenix Mars lander suggests its Viking forebears might have found organic compounds on the Red Planet — and destroyed them in the process of looking for them.
If this is true, it represents a monumental shift in the way scientists have thought about Mars for the past 30 years. The presence of native Martian organics suggests the planet might not be a dead rock after all.
One year ago, scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Lockheed Martin Space Systems, and the University of Arizona held their breath as the Phoenix Mars Lander hurtled toward its final descent and touchdown in the northern arctic plains of Mars. It was the first spacecraft landing on Mars without airbags since Viking 2 landed in 1976.
At 4:53:44 PM Pacific time on May 25, 2008, radio signals confirmed that Phoenix had survived its final descent and had landed safely on the Martian surface. The tricky and precise maneuvers involved with the spacecraft's entry, descent, and landing were executed in a manner described as "textbook perfect," leaving Phoenix poised almost perfectly level on the Martian surface. And the crowd at Mission Control went wild.
Time to whistle "Taps" for the Phoenix Mars Lander.
NASA has begun bidding a planned goodbye to its Phoenix Mars Lander. The lander relies on solar panels and the sun's golden touch to reawaken it each day, but a dust storm has hastened the end in the face of the oncoming Martian winter.
In a Mars exploration milestone, a laser remote sensing instrument on the Phoenix Mars lander has detected snow falling on the red planet. Data from the light detection and ranging (lidar) instrument—designed to gather information about interactions between the Martian atmosphere and ground surface—showed the snow falling from clouds about 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) above the spacecraft's landing site.
It's becoming a familiar story: robots on the surface of Mars outlasting their expected lifespan. Take the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity, for example. The rovers landed on Mars in 2004 and have performed so well that NASA has extended their mission activities five times in the past three years.
A 3-D stereoscopic imager and a robotic arm camera with an LED flash make up Phoenix's Red Planet gear bag
By John MahoneyPosted 06.03.2008 at 5:23 pm 2 Comments
Say Cheese, Martians!
The Phoenix Lander's main camera can capture 3-D stereoscopic images.
NASA/JPL/University of Arizona
For the past two weeks, NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander has been broadcasting a wealth of incredible images from its landing site in the Martian arctic. I've been refreshing the mission's raw photo stream obsessively—no little green men yet, just gorgeous panoramas and detailed closeups of the most foreign of all foreign lands. Being a bit of a camera geek, I was quite curious as to what kind of hardware was behind the action, and naturally, Phoenix has some pretty sweet gear on board to make it all possible.
Zoning in on the right landing site is key to a safe touchdown for the space agency's latest Red Planet explorer
By Gregory MonePosted 04.15.2008 at 8:18 am 2 Comments
Setting a spacecraft down on Mars isn't exactly easy—just ask Beagle 2. NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander, en route and due for a May 25 rendezvous with the surface, recently received a course adjustment from mission planners as they try to ensure that the craft doesn't drop down in a danger zone.
By Gregory MonePosted 07.10.2007 at 12:08 pm 0 Comments
NASA bounced back from the disappointing delay of the Dawn asteroid mission this weekend, reminding space fans that another exciting project is about to launch soon. At some point within a three-week window starting August 3, the Phoenix Mars Lander is slated to begin its journey to the Red Planet, ideally touching down in the northern plains sometime next spring. Once on the surface, Phoenix's two large solar panels will open up, and the lander will start to explore nearby ground with its nearly eight-foot-long robotic arm. A miniature weather station onboard will monitor the climate conditions, including the amount of water and dust in the atmosphere, while the arm will dig down beneath the soil, where scientists expect it will find ice. This isn't just wishful thinking: In 2002, the Mars Odyssey Orbiter uncovered evidence that big sections of Mars have water ice buried inches below the soil. The mission is only set to last for three months, but would be the first time that scientists actually use an instrument to come in direct contact with ice on Mars.—Gregory Mone