Phoenix: Racing with time

Phoenix, a lander currently working hard on Mars, has successfully completed its 90-sols primary mission and is currently continuing its extended activities on Mars. But it has to work fast, for the martian days are getting colder as the Sun dips below the horizon.

Like Earth, Mars has seasons. When Phoenix landed on Mars, it was in late spring. Since the landing site is above the Martian arctic circle (at latitude 68 degN), the Sun will not set during the peak of the Martian summer. The Sun will shine on Phoenix’s solar panels the whole Martian day.

Midnight Sun on Mars by Phoenix. Click to enlarge.

Midnight Sun on Mars (Sol 58). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Texas A&M University.

However, as the days went by, this period of maximum solar energy is past. On Sol 86 after the Phoenix landing, the Sun dipped completely below the horizon for about half an hour. The Sun will spend more and more time below the horizon until a time when Phoenix will only see total darkness. The loss of sunlight, extreme arctic cold and accumulation of carbon dioxide frost will prevent operations by December or January next year.

Mars Sunrise by Phoenix

Ice Cold Sunrise on Mars (Sol 91). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Texas A&M University.

As the Sun dips lower in the Martian sky with each passing day, the solar-powered Phoenix Mars Lander is working as fast and as hard as it can to dig, deliver and conduct as many experiments as possible before it runs out of power.

PhoenixCredit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Texas A&M University

The image beside shows the delivery of a soil sample on Sol 107 (September 12) to the Wet Chemistry Laboratory. A small pile of soil is visible on the lower edge of the second cell from the top. This deck-mounted lab is part of Phoenix’s Microscopy, Electrochemistry and Conductivity Analyzer (MECA).

In the coming days, the Phoenix team will also fill the final four of eight single-use ovens on another soil-analysis instrument, the Thermal and Evolved Gas Analyzer, or TEGA.


~ by thChieh on September 19, 2008.

One Response to “Phoenix: Racing with time”

  1. […] been following Phoenix since its launch, landing, operations, and finally its struggle to stay alive… Feels like not long ago we talk about Phoenix’s launched on 4 August 2007. And it only […]

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