NASA’s Mars Phoenix Lander is just a few weeks away from landing on the surface of Mars. NASA really hopes that this spacecraft doesn’t fallow in the doomed path of the previous Mars Polar Lander. What happened to the Mars Polar Lander? Nobody knows. NASA assumes it’s smashed up somewhere on the surface of the Red Planet. Now you can help search for it, by looking through high resolution images of the potential crash site.
The Mars Polar Lander should have landed on the Red Planet back in 1999. But instead of touching down gently on the surface of the planet, it just stopped sending back signals once it reached the Martian atmosphere. After an investigation into the crash, the best theory is that the vibration of the lander’s legs extending tricked the software into thinking it was on firm ground, and not 40 metres above the surface. The software cut off the main engine, and the lander plummeted down to the ground – a fall it couldn’t survive.
The spacecraft in orbit around Mars didn’t have the resolution to see the tiny lander on the surface of Mars. But the next generation Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter does have the resolution. If the lander is down there – in one piece, or in a field of debris – MRO’s high-resolution camera might be able to turn it up.
The problem is that there’s an immense amount of ground to cover, so the team responsible for the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s main camera system is looking for some help. They’ve made images of the entire potential debris area.
To get started, familiarize yourself with different kinds of debris and objects seen by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Here’s a link (warning… it’s a 15 MB PDF). I really recommend you check out that file, it’s quite an impressive collection of spacecraft debris strewn around Mars.
And then you can start looking through high resolution images of the potential debris area looking for anything that looks like a crashed lander, parachute, backplane, etc. Feel free to report any Martians you see as well.
You can then post comments onto the blog for any possible objects you see.
And let’s hope Mars Phoenix Lander lives up to its name, and helps the mission rise from the ashes to learn more about the subsurface ice on Mars.