“In fact, it’s cold as hell,” according to Elton John’s song Rocket Man.


Even in the middle of the Martian summer, it’s cold as hell. The sun does not set above the arctic circle of Mars during this time.

The period of maximum solar energy is past as of the 86th Martian day after the Phoenix landing. The sun finally set  in total behind a slight rise to the north for about half an hour. This red-filter image taken by Phoenix’s Surface Stereo Imager, shows the sun rising on the morning of sol 90, Aug. 25, 2008, the last day of the Phoenix nominal mission.

The Phoenix Mission has been extended through September, rather than the 90-sol duration originally planned. This image was taken at 51 minutes past midnight local solar time during the slow sunrise that followed a brief 75 minute “night.” The skylight in the image is light scattered off atmospheric dust particles and ice crystals.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Texas A&M University


NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) took this picture of the Phoenix Lander gliding to the surface of Mars while it orbited overhead.

The Lander will soon be testing its robotic arm; first by unlatching its wrist and then flexing its elbow. This is critical to the success of the mission as the arm will be scooping soil samples of ice for analysis.Phoenix landing

 Image: NASA/ JPL/ Caltech/ Univ of Arizona











This image shows the Phoenix craft parachute during its descent on May. It landed near the Heimdall crater at at distance of 12 miles in front of the crater. NASA is using both the MRO and another vehicle orbiting Mars, Odyssey, to communicate with the Phoenix Lander. Commands have been sent for the Lander to take pictures of the area around it and to begin to move its robotic arm.

During the next three months, the arm will dig in the soil near the lander and scoop samples of soil and ice to instruments on the lander deck. Following the commands this morning, its movements will begin with unlatching the wrist, then moving the arm upwards in a stair-step manner. These movements are schedule for Wednesday, May 28.

Overall, the Lander team is quite pleased with the landing of the craft and the position where it is situated on the surface of Mars.

The image below was taken today and relayed with other information to the MRO this evening, which transmitted the image and data to earth from its orbit around Mars.

Lander image 052708

At fifty-three minutes past 6 pm, Central Standard Time, the Phoenix Lander confirmed to Mission Control that it landed in the northern polar region of Mars. The first successful landing without airbags to cushion the landing on the planet since Viking 2 landed in 1976. Thruster jets were used to control the landing. Over the next three months, its mission will be to use its robotic arm to dig for frozen water.

Phoenix 05.25.08

The photo at left is a picture of one of the feet of the lander and the photo below is of the surrounding Martian landscape. Credit for the photo’s: NASA/ JPL-Caltech/ Univ. of Arizona.

During its 422-million-mile flight from Earth to Mars, which launched on August 4, 2007, Phoenix relied on electricity from solar panels during the spacecraft’s trip, known as the cruise stage. The cruise stage was jettisoned seven minutes before the lander, encased in a protective shell to protect against heat from entry into the thin Martian atmosphere, entered the Martian atmosphere proceeding toward the surface of the planet. Batteries provided electricity until the lander’s own pair of solar arrays spread open.

Another critical deployment will be the 7.7-foot-long robotic arm on Phoenix, which will not be attempted for at least two days. Scientists will use the robotic arm during the weeks ahead to obtain samples of soil and ice and put them into laboratory instruments on the lander deck.

Pulled by Mars’ gravity, Phoenix was speeding along at 12,700 mph before it entered the atmosphere, which slowed the craft so it could pop out a parachute and fire thruster rockets to glide softly to the ground.

The journey took 10 months and spanned a distance of 423 million miles. NASA attempted a landing on Mars’ south pole in 1999, but a problem developed during the final minutes of descent and ended the mission.

NASA canceled its next Mars lander but successfully deployed Spirit and Opportunity to the planet’s equatorial region to search for signs of past surface water.Mars landing area

Phoenix was created from spare parts out of the failed Polar Lander mission and a mothballed probe. Unlike the rovers, Phoenix did not bounce to the planet’s surface in airbags, which are not suitable for larger spacecraft.

Instead, like the 1970s-era Viking probes and the failed Polar Lander mission, Phoenix used a jet pack to lower itself to the ground and fold-out legs to land on.

This is a picture of the landing site that the Phoenix lander is heading to on Mars. Phoenix landing site The landing should be at around 6:50 pm CST. 










You can watch the operations center here on NASA tv. http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv/index.html 

Not much is happening right now, the odd communications, people sitting in front of monitors, a photographer walking around taking pictures. I would expect the excitement level to pick up closer to the landing time.

Here is a web link for the lander: http://jpl.nasa.gov/news/phoenix/images-all.php?fileID=8720.

Ever wonder what the weather is like on Mars? You can find out by viewing this link which gives a narrative description of the Martian weather as well as a Quicktime movie of the planet. The movie shows a week of planetary rotation where clouds and dust storms can be seen on Mars.

Mars pic The movie is courtesy of the Mars Color Imager (MARCI) about the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) spacecraft.  This is a low-resolution camera that scans Mars as the MRO orbits the planet, producing a global map at a pixel resolution of 1 to 10 km. This map provides a daily weather snapshot on Mars, gathering data on seasonal and annual variations, and maps the existence of water vapor and ozone in the Martian atmosphere.

For example, the weather report for the week of May 12, 2008 through May 18, 2008 is as follows:

Martian weather this past week continued to be fairly typical for northern spring. Afternoon water ice clouds concentrated over the major shield volcanoes, in the equatorial region, and west of Argyre. While Hellas continued to be clear and relatively free of dust, another dust storm developed at the seasonal north polar cap edge north of Tempe and lofted a diffuse cloud of dust onto the perennial cap for several days. This storm occurred northeast of the Phoenix site, where Phoenix intends to land on May 25. Although the storm occurred somewhat near the landing site, it did not affect weather conditions at the site. The two MER rovers (at Gusev Crater and Meridiani Planum) continued to experience dust storm-free skies with some partial cloud (condensate) cover throughout the week. Some of these condensate clouds reached heights of 69-83 km altitude (mesosphere).

There is also a reference map provided so that you can pinpoint the location of the places named in the weather report.

Mars reference map









I find the Mars weather information interesting to compare with our weather on this planet. In place of rain or other precipitation, the active ingredient in Martian weather is dust.

The rock that orbits Mars is Phobos, one of its two moons. Taken at a distance of 6,800 km ( 4,200 mi), the picture below was captured by HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Phobos

Check out the large impact crater on the right side of Phobos. There are striations emanating from the edge of the crater moving from the lower bottom right to the upper left of the face of the moon. It looks like flames left a mark after the impact. Probably not flames of course, but it is mind boggling to consider what might have caused these striations. Possibly ejected debris from an impact?

The crater has a name, naturally. Named Stickney, it has a diameter of 9 km ( 5.6 mi). Scientists from the European Space Agency’s Mars Express believe these marks occurred from impacts on Mars which ejected debris high enough up from the planet to have impacted Phobos. Those were probably some massive hits that Mars took, but Earth likely experienced the same thing.Mimas

Inside the crater Stickney can be seen a series of textures which are landslides formed when material fell into the crater. Phobos gravity is less than 1/1000 of Earth’s. They look like someone used a large spoon and scooped material out of the wall of the crater.

Stickney reminds me of the crater on Saturn’s moon, Mimas. The crater is named Herschel and defines Mimas, shown in the picture at right.

Actually, the two moons of Mars really are essentially rocks. They are believed to be stray asteroids that wandered in too close to Mars and were captured by the planet’s gravity.

NASA announced today a new web site dedicated to centralizing and enhancing information about their wide range of scientific missions and achievements.

They’ve done a good job of organizing and presenting information with enhanced links on the main page.

The main page contains links to:

  • Interactive tables and searches for Earth, heliophysics, planetary and astrophysics missions;
  • Insight into dark matter and dark energy, planets around other stars, climate change, Mars and space weather;
  • Resources for researchers including links to upcoming science solicitations and opportunities;
  • A mapping of science questions for NASA science missions and the data they produce;
  • A citizen-scientist page with access to resources that equip the public to engage in scientific investigation;
  • Expanded “For Educators” and “For Kids” pages to provide access to a broader range of resources for learning the science behind NASA missions;
  • Easy-to-navigate design and an improved search engine to help find information;

The site can be found at: http://nasascience.nasa.gov .

A nicely laid out site map that shows all the available links is: http://nasascience.nasa.gov/sitemap .