Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Final news from Phoenix

Artists impression - Credit: NASA

As the Martian winter sets in, and the days shorten, there is no longer enough solar energy to power the circuits or charge the batteries. For a few days Phoenix struggled to maintain contact with the orbiting satellites but this was draining the batteries and shutting down the computer. If the batteries recharged at all the computer would reboot and try again to establish contact, which drained the batteries. Once looping like that there was nothing the mission controllers could do but call it the end. Ever decreasing circles as daylength declines.

Phoenix was designed to operate for just 90 days. It has far exceeded expectation and the scientific legacy will be studied for years to come.

So it's farewell to a fantastic mission. Will Phoenix arise a year from now in the next Martian spring? This is very unlikely. As winter progresses Mars' northern polar cap will grow and will entomb Phoenix; not in water ice but in sold CO2, dry ice.

People will be listening though and next year, if there is a beep, then this Phoenix will have arisen not from ashes but from ice.

For a brief overview of Phoenix, the podcast Quirks and Quarks has a good report from a few days ago, before the shutdown. Download it from here. Or you can read my earlier posts here.

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