Has Phoenix… Died?

Could this be the end of Phoenix? (NASA/JPL)
The end of the line? (NASA/JPL)

Late on Tuesday, NASA’s Phoenix Mars lander entered “safe mode.”

Before this, NASA scientists were working to conserve power by shutting down non-critical systems. By powering down instrumentation such as the heaters that warm Phoenix’s robotic arm, valuable energy was hoped to be saved, perhaps giving the lander some extra time to carry out its final experiments before complete loss of sunlight as Mars’ northern hemisphere enters winter. But it seems that a possible dust storm and the falling temperatures (down to -96°C) may have caused a low-power fault, triggering the precautionary safe-mode.

Although scientists were optimistic about communicating with its on board systems, to send commands to bring Phoenix back online, it seems time (and energy) has run out…

Things are looking bleak for Phoenix. Although the lander had entered safe mode on Tuesday, commands were being frantically sent from NASA to get the electronics functioning again. Unfortunately, it looks like the attempts to communicate with Phoenix (relayed through one of the Mars orbiters) on Wednesday and today (Thursday) have failed.

There is still hope however. There might be the slim chance that the lander has switched itself into a state in which the on board electronics will only function for two hours a day to listen out for messages from Earth. But engineers are not sure when the batteries became depleted, and are uncertain about when this cycling behaviour started (if at all).

So now we wait. NASA is holding vigils for a call from Phoenix, but there’s a big chance the call will never come…

Source: Universe Today

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