Monday, May 26, 2008


The success of the Phoenix Mars Lander so far is extremely exciting. I guess it will be a week or so before they get the results of the first soil sample, so we just need to be patient.

FYI, there is an excellent article about the first pictures that includes a composite look out toward the horizon and explains (with an example) why the pattern on the surface is indicative of permafrost. Much better than anything I ran across on the news coverage over the weekend, which was pretty thin. Thanks to a comment added to Chad's article for a pointer to Jeff Marlow's observations.

Maybe the coverage was kind of thin because the press were expecting to see snow drifts.

Of course, maybe we will be lucky and the craft will last long enough for us to see the arrival of Martian winter! We can dream, can't we?

For now, my amateur comment is that it is exciting just to see differences in geology at the fine scale possible only in photographs. It is one thing to see color coded maps, and quite another to see a picture. The absence of craters and other striking "space" features is the clearest evidence of all that there are forces (such as freeze-thaw cycles involving water) at work on the surface of Mars.

I was also impressed with how well the systems worked. I was mentally estimating the velocity as they made altitude calls, just like when I "watched" the first moon landing, and I was elated when it was clear that it was going to work. I was also no longer wondering about site contamination by the rocket landing after a bit of a brush-up on the chemistry of hydrazine as used as here: a monopropellant with only ammonia (NH3), nitrogen, and hydrogen gas as the products. Ditto when the hydrazine was vented after landing. Nothing there that will leave any water behind.

Some other nice info is in a pair of articles by Astroprof. The first one includes a picture, "So Few Rocks", that was the winner in a contest to speculate on what will be seen. It is remarkably close to what was actually seen!

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