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The Bruce Murray Space Image Library

Phoenix lander before and after a Martian winter

Filed under pretty pictures, pics of spacecraft in space, amateur image processing, Phoenix, Mars, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

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Phoenix lander before and after a Martian winter Two images of the Phoenix lander taken by the HiRISE camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on July 20, 2008 (top) and May 7, 2010 (bottom) document the damage done to the lander by the intervening Martian polar winter. The images are enlarged by a factor of three. The two most obvious differences are a lack of bright reflection from the metal surfaces of the lander's main body -- which suggest that it is covered with dust -- and the disappearance of the solar panels and their accompanying shadows -- which suggest that the panels collapsed over the winter.

NASA / JPL-Caltech / UA / Emily Lakdawalla

Phoenix heat shield before and after a Martian winter

NASA / JPL-Caltech / UA / Emily Lakdawalla

Phoenix heat shield before and after a Martian winter
Two images of the Phoenix heat shield taken by the HiRISE camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on July 20, 2008 (top) and May 7, 2010 (bottom) show how rapidly the Martian polar environment acts to hide human artifacts sent there. When Phoenix approached for landing, this round heat shield protected the spacecraft during its fiery entry into the Martian atmosphere. Shortly before landing, Phoenix ejected the heat shield, which fell to the ground a short distance away from the lander. When it bounced, it deposited a splash of sooty material, flipped, and landed with its sooty side up, making a distinctive dark circle on the ground. Following the Martian winter, the dark bounce mark is invisible -- probably covered with a layer of dust -- and the heat shield itself is only barely discernible from the surrounding terrain.

Phoenix backshell and parachute before and after a Martian winter

NASA / JPL-Caltech / UA / Emily Lakdawalla

Phoenix backshell and parachute before and after a Martian winter
Two images of the Phoenix backshell and parachute taken by the HiRISE camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on July 20, 2008 (top) and May 7, 2010 (bottom) make it clear that searching for the missing Mars Polar Lander will be exceedingly difficult. Shortly after Phoenix' landing, the bright parachute was the easiest thing to spot in a low-resolution view of the landing area; its brilliantly reflective whiteness saturated the HiRISE camera detector. A year later, the parachute has apparently vanished; no sign of it remains. It is most likely still there, but the thin material has conformed to the shape of the soil below it, and it has been coated with dust, camouflaging it into the surroundings. The backshell also appears less bright because it is coated with dust, but its shadow has not changed, indicating that the backshell has survived the winter more or less unchanged from its condition and position when it landed.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. For uses not allowed by that license, contact us to request publication permission from the copyright holder: Emily Lakdawalla

 

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