Frosty Phoenix Not Snowed Under… Yet.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's HiRISE instrument spots the dead Phoenix Lander on December 21st (NASA/HiRISE)
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's HiRISE instrument spots the dead Phoenix Lander on December 21st (NASA/HiRISE)

NASA lost contact with the Phoenix Mars Lander at the start of November 2008, as its batteries were drained and sunlight began to dwindle. With no sunlight came no charge for the batteries from Phoenix’s solar panels, and the robot’s fate was sealed: a sun-deprived coma. A dust storm hastened the lander’s fate, but it certainly wasn’t premature. The Phoenix mission was intended to last three months, but in the same vein as the Mars Exploration Rovers, Phoenix’s mission was extended. In the high latitude location of the Martian Arctic, a dark winter was fast approaching, so Phoenix didn’t have the luxury of time and it transmitted its last broken signal before the cold set in, sapping the last volt of electricity from its circuits…

Although there was some excitement about the possibility of reviving the lander next summer, it is highly unlikely Phoenix will be in an operational state, even if it did have an abundant source of light to heat up its solar panels once more. No, Phoenix is dead.

However, that doesn’t mean the orbiting satellites won’t be looking out for it. So long as there is a little bit of light bouncing off the frosted Martian surface, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter can image Phoenix, keeping track of the encroaching ice around its location. The HiRISE team seem to be assembling a series of images throughout the change in seasons at the landing site, so it will be interesting to see the full set…

Source: HiRISE blog

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