Phoenix heat shield before and after a Martian winter

Phoenix heat shield before and after a Martian winter
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. NASA / JPL-Caltech / UA / Emily Lakdawalla

"We're changing the world. Are you in?"
- CEO Bill Nye

Sign up for email updates