Some of the biggest discoveries we make in planetary science rely on the seemingly simple act of picking up and analyzing pieces of other worlds. When things go awry, scientists and engineers can sometimes squeeze amazing science out of a tough situation.
The latest HiRISE images of the Phoenix polar lander, taken near Mars' northern summer solstice, show why we haven't heard from the spacecraft since it fell silent on November 2, 2008: it appears the solar panels have collapsed.
I've gotten this question about once a week since Spirit got stuck, but yesterday, two different readers asked the same question within an hour of each other, so I figured it was time for a blog entry.
These Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter HiRISE images of the defunct Phoenix lander in the early dawn light of northern spring have been out for some time, but no one had accomplished the difficult task of locating the Phoenix hardware in them until this week.
I was delighted to receive an email from Morten Bo Madsen, who I knew from the Mars Exploration Rover mission as "that Danish magnet guy," the fellow responsible for the magnet experiments on nearly every American Mars mission. The magnets were originally designed to study the properties of airborne Martian dust, which would help determine its composition.
I have posted several times about the amazing photo captured by HiRISE of Phoenix under its parachute as it descended. There have been two common questions I've received about the photo: was there any color data taken, and what more can I tell you about how hard it was to take the photo? I've got answers to both questions for you today.
The Phoenix mission confirmed it this morning: the disappearing act pulled by those chunks of bright material in the Dodo trench pretty much nails the identification of the bright material as ice, which is great news for the mission. Ice is what Phoenix went all the way to Mars to study; it's what the team has been aiming for all these years.