Phoenix Lander May Have Been Blasted by Dust Devil

A series of images put together to form a movie of the Mars Phoenix lander’s telltale instrument show the telltale waving wildly in the Martian wind. According to Phoenix scientists, movement in one image seemed to be “out-of-phase” with other images, possibly indicating a dust devil whirled nearby or even over the lander. Preliminary analysis of the images taken right before and after the passing of this possible dust devil indicates winds from the west at 7 meters per second. The image taken during the possible dust devil shows 11 meters per second wind from the south.

These images were taken by the lander’s Surface Stereo Imager (SSI) on the 136th Martian day, or sol, of the mission (Oct. 12, 2008). Documenting the telltale’s movement helps mission scientists and engineers determine what the wind is like on Mars. The telltale was built by the University of Aarhus, Denmark, and is part of the lander’s Meteorological Station (MET), developed by the Canadian Space Agency.
TEGA instrument.  Credit: NASA/JPL/Caltech/U of AZ
Also, Phoenix’s robotic arm successfully delivered soil into oven six of the lander’s thermal and evolved-gas analyzer (TEGA) on Monday, Oct. 13, or Martian day (sol) 137 of the mission.

Six of eight ovens have been used to date.

TEGA’s tiny ovens heat the soil to as high as 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit (1,000 degrees Celsius). The lab’s or mass spectrometer analyzes the gases derived from heating the soil. Mission scientists will continue to research and analyze the soil samples in the coming months, long after Phoenix stops operating on the surface.

Phoenix is gradually getting less power as the sun drops below the horizon.

“My entire team is working very hard to make use of the power we have before it disappears,” said William Boynton of the University of Arizona, Tucson, the lead scientist for TEGA. “Every time we fill an oven, we potentially learn more about Mars’ geochemistry.”

Source: Phoenix News Site

14 Replies to “Phoenix Lander May Have Been Blasted by Dust Devil”

  1. Any organics yet? Any methane? What was the peak ground surface temperature? We’re still hoping you release results someday.

  2. @Jon: Mars’ orbit takes it behind the sun from earth’s perspective, causing a total comms blackout from roughly 29 Nov – 15 December. I believe Barry Goldstein’s said he’d be surprised to hear back from Phoenix after conjunction.

  3. I sure hope they use all the ovens on TEGA and get the data back before Pheonix loses power

  4. Oh!


    while “The Sun” is essential for knowledgeability like is athlete’s foot, it is clear that the acronym UFO means nothing else but an unidentified object in flight.

    But what means “unknown” to the reader of “The Sun” does not at all mean “extraterrestrial”.

    Expectedly, there is no more information about the “notice” then the pictures themselves in this disposable “news”. So the pictures are supposed to convince by themselves. Accordingly, the (still unknown!) features of an alien flying object are silently postulated by the article:

    “physical forms of UFOs and their metallic structures are clearly noticeable.”

    Thus I have no problem to say that this articel is trash, as is the newspaper itself. One can find many things but no instantaneous insight by reading papers like “The Sun”. This paper is an UFO by itself.

  5. @DAH

    If you say that thinking Phoenix would be able to escape the winter had it a set of wheels to get going when the going gets dim, you better rethink: it’d never work. Probes are notoriously slow, and Phoenix is a long, long way from the equator. No matter how you planned the trip, it’d always end up being caught by the winter not too far from where it currently is. So what’s the point in wheeling it up?

  6. The RTG would have kept the lander warm all winter. That’s why the two Vikings survived for years on Mars because they were nuclear powered.

    As for mobility, it could have examined more than one site, even if Phoenix only lasted a matter of months. The MERs showed what happens when you can move around the planet, even if it is just a few miles from your touch down site.

    Failing that, NASA could have attached a hydrogen balloon to the lander, where when things got too rough in one place, the balloon could be inflated and the probe could float up and away, drifting for days on the Martian winds until it came down somewhere nicer.

  7. Hm… I hate acronyms. Thought RTG was something else. Now I understood you meant a radioisotope generator.

    So yeah, that’d be a viable mission profile, I guess. Although I think I read somewhere (probably in relation with a gas giant moon’s mission) that we still don’t know how to make moving parts such as wheels trustworthy at extremely low temperatures. Not sure about this, however.

    On the other hand, I don’t think we know enough of the martian atmospheric circulation yet to be able to pull off a baloon mission for such a heavy probe as Phoenix. Remember the martian gas envelope is really thin. What would surely work on Venus or Titan would probably not work at all on Mars.

  8. The two Mars Rovers have survived thousands of nights of bitterly cold temperatures and after 4.5 years all but one of their wheels is still functioning.

    Even Mars Pathfinder’s wheels worked for months over a decade ago.

    The Planetary Society had plans for a Mars balloon mission in the early 1990s. I think they even got as far as testing its feasibility factor.

    All future Mars landers need a nuclear power source and mobility, period.

  9. The “bitterly cold temperatures” the rovers have experienced are a sunny summer day compared with what Phoenix will go through during the winter up there where it stands. So were Pathfinder’s. They are just not comparable.

    Still, as I clearly stated, I’m not sure there really are engeneering constraints at that level.

    Plans for a baloon mission and a feasibility study with no subsequent mission tells me that it was probably found not feasible or too expensive or of little scientific value compared to other mission profiles. In any case, whatever payload was planned was not anywhere near as heavy as Phoenix is. In a quick search, I’ve found information about a few mission plans, whose payloads never exceed 5kg. Phoenix weighs 350 kg. There’s a wee bit of a difference there.

    Future Mars landers need the best equipment that can be put together in order for them to accomplish their scientific goals, while keeping the mission viable in terms of cost and the whole engeneering dos and don’ts about actually landing the robots on the planet. Period. If it’s mobility, then it’s mobility, if it’s not, then it’s not.

  10. No offense, but you didn’t even know what an RTG was and now you’re a Mars probe expert?

    Mars landers are either mobile and true explorers or they are weather stations, that’s it.

  11. DAH, how about this idea: you skip the personal attacks, which only make you look stupid (no offense), and either agree or disagree with what’s being said? Hm? With the facts? With the science?

    Want some examples of how that’s done? OK, here are some suggestions. Do you know of a baloon mission proposal over 5 kg? Let’s hear about it. If you know of one that’s able to lift 300 kg even better. Do you have an alternative interpretation of why there was no baloon mission after the feasibility studies? Shoot. Do you know for a fact that our robots are perfectly capable of working mobile parts at martian winter temperatures? I’m all ears, and I guess other UT visitors might like to read about it as well.

    Unless you do it, our conversation is over, here and wherever a potential for it might arise. I’m not into sophomoric name calling.

    Still, cute definition of weather station. I guess that would apply to drilling missions as well, huh? 🙂

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