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Clumps Growing on Phoenix Lander Legs

Clumps of material have adhered to the legs of the Phoenix Mars Lander, and the clumps continue to change and grow. The science team has discussed various possible explanations for these clumps. One suggestion is that they may have started from a splash of mud if Phoenix’s descent engines melted icy soil during the landing. Another is that specks of salt may have landed on the strut and began attracting atmospheric moisture that freezes and accumulates. The clumps are concentrated on the north side of the strut, usually in the shade, so their accumulation could be a consequence of the fact that condensation favors colder surfaces. Below, compare images taken on September 1, 2008, or the 97th Martian Day or sol, since landing with another image taken about three months earlier, on Sol 8.

Sol 97 image under the lander.  Credit:  NASA/JPL/Caltech/U of AZ

Sol 8 image from under the lander.  Credit:  NASA/JPL/Caltech/U of AZ

Phoenix’s Robotic Arm Camera took both images. The top image from Sol 97 was taken at about 4 a.m. local solar time. The view in this Sol 97 image is southward. Illumination is from the early morning sun above the northeastern horizon. This is quite different from the illumination in the Sol 8 image, bottom which was taken in mid-afternoon.

The two images also show a contrast in the flat, smooth patch of exposed ice underneath the lander. Phoenix team members believe the ice was exposed from the spacecraft’s thrusters as it landed. In the latest image, the patches of ice exposed underneath the lander seem to be partly covered by darker material left behind as ice vaporizes away. The flat patch in the center of the image has the informal name “Holy Cow,” based on researchers’ reaction when they saw the initial image of it.

Source: Phoenix Gallery


Nancy Atkinson is currently Universe Today's Contributing Editor. Previously she served as UT's Senior Editor and lead writer, and has worked with Astronomy Cast and 365 Days of Astronomy. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • David S September 10, 2008, 7:10 PM

    Black and white (actually gray scale) gives you 4 times the resolution of color photos. Why??
    Because color photos require the use of red, yellow, blue and white (in separate pixels)

    You are correct about grayscale having higher possible resolution, however you don’t have the particulars right.

    Color images are generated using red, green, and blue pixels. Grayscale has 256 possible shades of gray available. RGB divides that by three. There is no white pixel. Black is all pixels off. So using three grayscale images would give you higher resolution, for the given element. But this is mostly for printing. Raw images have a much wider range. White is all three pixels on at once.

    Technically there’s no reason in this day and age that they can’t fit one of these probes with a high resolution RGB camera. Most of us have them, and these grayscale photos look of poorer quality than most cell phones!

    As far as bandwidth… we were able to send back live video from the moon. And that was almost 40 years ago!

  • Chris Coles September 11, 2008, 1:53 AM

    TD great image. If any of you had ever tried your hand at plastering you would see clear similarities between the plaster surface before trowelling smooth and that image of Mars with the trough. That surface is not solid, as TD says, sand blown over millions of years; it is so much like a wet plaster surface, it makes ones hair stand on end.

  • Aodhhan September 11, 2008, 5:56 AM


    You’re a victim of your own closed mind. Open it up, do your own study. It takes a long time to do this, but you’ll eventually get the correct answer for yourself.
    Not everything is theory; many things are proven even without direct visual evidence. If you rely only on what you see and know, then you are easily fooled; like an audience at a magic show.

  • Richard September 11, 2008, 3:45 PM

    I welcome our new alien overlords.

  • Dave September 11, 2008, 2:04 PM

    Looks like the guys in the studio lack attention to detail when applying planetary makeup to their Mars stage. This proves that the Mars landing is a hoax, just like the one 40 years ago.

  • RR September 11, 2008, 2:12 PM

    In other news, NASA plans first carwash for planet Mars.

  • Brian September 11, 2008, 2:29 PM

    What a bunch of ridiculous conjecture. Did any of you think of the fact that it is quite possible that the high res photos whether b/w or color are classified to some degree and therefor you are not allowed to see them? Just because they did not show up in one web article does not mean they do not exist. Not to mention the hi res color photos that have been posted everywhere. And to the person who mentioned Kodak Gold, first off that film is crap which is why NO professional photographer anywhere who is worth a damn uses it, secondly, do you want the lander to run over to photomat to get it developed? Maybe if you ask nicely it will pay for double prints and send you a set.

  • Marvin September 11, 2008, 3:02 PM

    Martians, please stop poo’ing on our lander.
    Really, have a little interplanetary respect.

  • Pressman September 11, 2008, 3:49 PM

    One word; Andromeda

  • DJ September 11, 2008, 6:43 PM

    Can somebody keep an eye on this and let us know when it’s time to PANIC??!!?!!

  • Jorge September 12, 2008, 8:31 AM

    Don’t panic.

    But do keep your towel handy.

  • Joe September 12, 2008, 9:14 AM

    The Hubble produces very nice color images… so why shouldn’t the lander?
    I’m very sceptical about these B/W images. They do not appear to be Hires either.

  • Joe September 12, 2008, 9:27 AM

    Ooops.. Spoke too soon. It appears this lander can, and has actually taken stereo color images. My bad.

  • Yoo September 12, 2008, 9:37 AM

    Most color images from the Hubble are probably false color images, anyways.

  • Captiosus September 12, 2008, 2:53 PM


    Almost 80% of the hubble images are true color images, taken with a big ass camera totaling some 1.5+ GIGApixels in its light receptor. this explains how the hubble can take extreme long range images such as the hubble deep field at such incredible clarity. But then again that 1.5 Gp camera cost a good quarter of a billion bucks when it went up w/ the hubble. If you think the images are false color, try looking at the Orion Nebula with a two foot wide reflector telescope and then compare it w/ a Hubble only image of the nebula’s heart and you will see the colors. Hell, if you can see it where you live, the Andromeda Galaxy is the furthest away thing in the night sky (almost some 2 million lightyrs away) that the unaided human eye can detect, and you notice it has a slight bluish color. look at an image taken by hubble: it has a slight bluish tint.

    Sorry if i was an ass, but just trying to defend the most kick ass telescope in human history XD

  • Louis September 13, 2008, 9:03 AM

    personally, I don’t think that those “clumps” found growing on the Phoenix Lander’s legs are lifeforms. It just seems quite absurd thinking that those things are little life forms, ‘coz there were no life forms ever found, right? No extraterrestrials have not been seen yet. But I am not discouraging others who are hoping those have life in it. There is a chance, of course. Good luck to what’s to happen next. 😀

  • Yoo September 13, 2008, 9:23 AM

    Hmm, for some reason I thought most images from Hubble were processed to show false colors because the natural color images were boring and unenlightening. Guess there are much fewer false color images than I thought.

  • Jorge September 13, 2008, 5:37 PM

    Well, as far as I know, the majority of Hubble images are in enhanced true color.

    On the other hand, most of those spectacular and colourful images Hubble brought us, stuff like the Pillars of Creation or the Cat’s Eye nebula, are in false colour.

  • jerry October 6, 2008, 2:44 PM

    Dont you know this is the red planet,heh heh.Ivebeen waiting long nigh to sample some of your earthling spacecraft whilst it oxidises in my icy paradise,heh heh Im slowly growing on the old bird’s legs,eating away the metal.just wait until the winter comes,I will have a veritable feast of your mars polar earth snack and dont try and send any robots or i will turn them into mars bars!