Phoenix Lander At Mission’s End

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The Phoenix Mars Lander has not communicated since Nov. 2, and engineers from the mission assume the vehicle is now completely out of power. Therefore, at a news conference today, mission managers announced the Phoenix the mission is now officially over. “At this time we’re pretty convinced the vehicle is no longer available for us to use, and we’re declaring the end of the mission,” said Barry Goldstein, Phoenix project manager. “We’ve been surprised by this vehicle before, and we’re still listening. We’ll try to hail Phoenix, but no one has the expectation we’ll hear from it again. We’re completely proud of what we’ve accomplished. We’ve achieved all of the science goals and then some.”

But there’s still more to come from Phoenix, as scientists can now focus fully on analyzing the science data returned by the lander. Could Phoenix have found possible organic substances on Mars?

Peter Smith, Principal Investigator for Phoenix, didn’t rule out the possibility. “We haven’t analyzed the data at that level yet,” he said. “These are subtle signatures. We have the data sets that could reveal that. But until we actually do the work, we can’t say we didn’t find it…I’m still holding out hope here. Its’ really a question of what is the truth on Mars, and we’re trying to make sure we get the right answer here and not come rushing out with a quick analysis. This is very tricky stuff and the data sets are quite complex in regards to organics.”

Tests done by Phoenix didn’t reveal the acid soils Smith and his team were expecting to find, but alkaline salts and perchlorates, which are possible energy sources and nutrients for microbes. Smith doesn’t think there’s anything alive on Mars now, its just too cold. “It’s possible that in a warmer and wetter period on it Mars, it could have been habitable,” he said.

As anticipated, the seasonal decline in sunshine at the arctic landing site is not providing enough sunlight for the solar arrays to collect the power necessary to charge batteries that operate the lander’s instruments. And a dust storm at the landing site made the sunlight decrease even further, ending the mission a little sooner than the team had hoped.

As for any possibility of re-contacting the lander next year when spring returns to Mars’ northern arctic, Goldstein didn’t rule it out, but said its not very likely. “By the mid October (2009) time frame, there would be enough sunlight hitting the solar arrays to create power,” he said. “But its highly unlikely the vehicle will come back. It will be encased in CO2 ice, in temperatures under -150 C. The solar arrays will likely crack and fall off the vehicle,… the electronics will become brittle and break, so the wiring boards won’t work. But this vehicle has behaved so superlatively, we’ll look again in October.”

Look for an official epitaph for Phoenix from Universe Today soon.

19 Replies to “Phoenix Lander At Mission’s End”

  1. Oh, Phoenix we hardly knew ye. Maybe in a hundred years someone will come along, dust it off, and put it in a museum on Mars.

  2. Umm… what did this vehicle actually accomplish aside from landing, sending back some pictures, and digging a small trench?

  3. The accomplishment is a detailed examination of the soil content on Mars. That is where the data analysis comes in.

  4. Jason, Phoenix’s cameras also returned more than 25,000 pictures from sweeping vistas to near the atomic level using the first atomic force microscope ever used outside Earth.

    Phoenix’s preliminary science accomplishments advance the goal of studying whether the Martian arctic environment has ever been favorable for microbes. Additional findings include documenting a mildly alkaline soil environment unlike any found by earlier Mars missions; finding small concentrations of salts that could be nutrients for life; discovering perchlorate salt, which has implications for ice and soil properties; and finding calcium carbonate, a marker of effects of liquid water.

    In this day and age, nothing is more valuable than knowledge.

  5. @Don Alexander
    “Rest in crumbly, brittle, CO2-covered pieces, Phoenix.”
    It hurts when coffee comes out your nose from laughing … Now that is the sort of comment we should have SETI sending out into space !
    I feel kinda empty on the whole Phoenix thing, I think I expected too much .. I should have expected nothing, and known nothing of those little rovers still clocking up the miles 🙂

  6. Amen to the colonization sentiment.

    I think that the Phoenix team did a wonderful job even getting that lander to its current location on Mars, when so many others have failed.

    I pray I live long enough to see humans land on the Red Planet. That would be terrific.

  7. Phoenix has one final important task that it will serve for decades if not centuries until it is found by future explorers: As a remote library holding many works of literature, art, and commentary about the Red Planet by those who made Phoenix and the other Mars explorers possible.

    The Visions of Mars CD is expected to last from 500 to 1,000 years intact. Hopefully we will have colonized the planet by then.

    I just wonder if there will be anyone able to read the data by the time it is found. As the recent UT article on the Apollo lunar dust data tapes attest, four decade old media stored on this planet is almost unreadable now, so why should we expect future historians to have access to a CD player on Mars?

  8. I also hope to live long enough to see a human on Mars – BECAUSE – Honestly, I’m tired of hearing over and over that Mars MAY have supported life and MAY have had liquid water, blah blah blah! It’s pretty obvious that Mars was molten like Earth and went through the same processes Earth did. It is one half the size, therefore cooled much quicker, so obviously life should have evolved at least a billion years before Earth cooled enough. Everything was there. It just cooled and died much faster. So I would like someone to just step foot on the planet and verify once and for all that Mars was a quick version of Earth and stop saying May have done this or that…. It’s beginning to get on my nerves to hear it every day. The data is there for all to see. Mars didn’t stay molten in the interior long enough to have plate techtonics. And that concept on Earth is a new one?? How many years did they argue about plate movement? C’mon already, somebody grow a pair and SAY IT!

  9. I still hold a faint hope that come the Martian spring we may see the headline “Phoenix Rises From the Ices”.

  10. HEY MAN!
    GLACIERS Found in the Mid Latitudes on MARS!!!

    MarsDaily just announced – sub-surface glaciers have been found no where near the poles on MARS! The aprons – they can NOW see through with RADAR – were discovered with Viking 32 years ago!

    That is just too cool! I knew there had to be more similarities with Earth’s evolution, since Mars is in THE habitable zone.

    Same TV – different channel!

    Way cool junior………..

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