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The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter did some first class reconnaissance by snapping an image of Phoenix during its descent with a parachute. This is the first time that a spacecraft has imaged the final descent of another spacecraft onto a planetary body. The incredible HiRISE Camera was pointed towards the area of Phoenix’s descent, and from a distance of about 760 kilometers (472 miles) above the surface of the Red Planet, it captured Phoenix with its parachute descending through the Martian atmosphere. The image reveals an apparent 10-meter-wide (30-foot-wide) parachute fully inflated. Absolutely amazing.
Also, JPL has a couple of new videos of interest for Phoenix. If you want to re-live the drama of the landing, here a great video showing the events in mission control along with the artist’s conception video of the events taking place on Mars. It’s great fun.
Also, here’s another video that describes the scientific endeavors that Phoenix will be undertaking.
More about the MRO image capturing the descent:
The image faintly detects the chords attaching the backshell and parachute. The surroundings look dark, but correspond to the fully illuminated Martian surface, which is much darker than the parachute and backshell.
Phoenix released its parachute at an altitude of about 12.6 kilometers (7.8 miles) and a velocity of 1.7 times the speed of sound.
The HiRISE acquired this image on May 25, 2008, at 7:36 p.m. Eastern Time. It is a highly oblique view of the Martian surface, 26 degrees above the horizon, or 64 degrees from the normal straight-down imaging of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The image has a scale of 0.76 meters per pixel.