Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on TwitterThe Phoenix lander is the 6th spacecraft from NASA that has both landed on Mars and transmitted information as intended. Phoenix touched down the Martian surface on May 25, 2008. From that time until it lost communication, it made observations, conducted experiments and sent a plethora of information back to Earth.
For 5 months, the Phoenix lander sent information about the Martian weather, chemical composition, surrounding terrain and climate cycles before yielding to the harsh Martian winter that prevented ample solar power from reaching its panels. Its last signal was received on November 2, 2008. Nevertheless, the lander far exceeded expectations having completed its mission as early as August of that year.
Among the Phoenix’s ‘tools’ were the following:
- A robotic arm that was capable of digging half a meter below the Martian surface and collecting soil and ice samples. The robot arm was also equipped with a camera that took colored pictures of the samples as well as the surrounding area.
- A Surface Stereo Imager; basically, a high resolution camera that served as the main camera of the Phoenix lander. It was able to capture breathtaking pictures of the Martian Arctic. Being a stereo camera, the pictures had a certain depth or 3-dimensional attribute.
- A Thermal and Evolved Gas Analyzer (TEGA) whose primary function was to bake samples and determine, among others, how much carbon dioxide as well as water vapor were released. The TEGA had eight tiny ovens to analyze 8 separate samples.
- A Microscopy, Electrochemistry, and Conductivity Analyzer for studying very tiny soil particles (diameters as small as 16 micrometers). It was also used to measure the thermal and electrical conductivity of soil particles.
Those mentioned are just a few of what the Phoenix lander had in its possession. Just imagine that it was capable of satisfying the cravings of earthbound scientists from the field of physics, chemistry, biology, meteorology, geology, and many others.
Among the greatest discoveries made by the Phoenix lander – and ‘many’ is an understatement – was that it snows at night in Mars. Before this discovery, scientists only knew that Martian polar caps advanced and retreated but they didn’t know whether precipitation in fact occurred. The lander’s findings proved that it did.
The Phoenix lander was a non-mobile machine. NASA’s current explorers on Mars are two rovers, wheeled robots that can navigate over the Martian surface. Because of this capability, the two rovers – named Opportunity and Spirit – are able to move to safer regions when climates become harsh and hence last longer. Both rovers have been operational for 5 years!
We’ve got an article covering the Phoenix Lander Team’s discovery that it snows at night in Mars. There’s another one, also here in Universe Today, that talks about winds and weather on Mars.