NASA's Phoenix Lander on Mars, Nearly a Decade Later
|Figure 1||Figure 2|
This animation blinks back and forth between two images taken nearly a decade apart of NASA's Mars Phoenix Lander and related hardware around the mission's May 25, 2008, landing site on far-northern Mars. By late 2017, dust had obscured much of what was visible two months after the landing.
Both images were taken by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The one with three patches of darker ground -- where landing events removed dust -- was taken on July 20, 2008. It is Fig. 1, an excerpt of HiRISE observation PSP_009290_2485. The one with a more even coating of pale dust throughout the area was taken on Dec. 21, 2017. It is Fig. 2, an excerpt of HiRISE observation ESP_053451_2485. Both cover an area roughly 300 meters wide at 68 degrees north latitude, 234 degrees east longitude, and the two are closely matched in viewing and illumination geometry, from about five Martian years apart in northern hemisphere summers.
The animation comparing the two images shows a number of changes between mid-2008 and late 2017. The lander (top) appears darker, and is now covered by dust. The dark spot created by the heat shield impact (right) is brighter, again due to dust deposition. The back shell and parachute (bottom) shows a darker parachute and brighter area of impact disturbance, thanks again to deposits of dust. We also see that the parachute has shifted in the wind, moving to the east.
In August 2008, Phoenix completed its three-month mission studying Martian ice, soil and atmosphere. The lander worked for two additional months before reduced sunlight caused energy to become insufficient to keep the lander functioning. The solar-powered robot was not designed to survive through the dark and cold conditions of a Martian arctic winter.
The University of Arizona, Tucson, led the Phoenix mission and also operates HiRISE, which was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colorado. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, managed the Phoenix Mars Lander Project and manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Lockheed Martin Space, Denver, built both the Phoenix and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft.