Phoenix Mars Lander
It's getting colder in the northern plains of Mars these days. The nights are longer, and the Sun doesn't climb as high across the sky. But if everything is still going well, the Phoenix lander is still tracking the weather there, still digging into the red soil, and still sniffing for the chemistry of life.
Phoenix touched down on May 25th, near the start of summer in Mars's northern hemisphere.
SMITH: The landing was absolutely, unbelievably, right down the projected pathway we expected we would go down if everything went exactly right.
That's Peter Smith, the lead scientist for the mission and a professor at the University of Arizona, where Phoenix is controlled.
SMITH: We landed very near exactly where we wanted to be, within a few days we realized we had ice right at our landing site, which is of course the goal of our mission: how ice changes the soils, and does it provide a habitat for life on Mars.
As we explore our landing site, it's basically like a frozen ocean with a little bit of soil over it, it kinda rolls and waves off into the distance and as we dig down into the soil around us, we go down about two inches and, by gosh, there's the ice layer.
Phoenix provided the first confirmation that there's frozen water beneath the Martian soil. Its chemical laboratories also measured the content of the soil; more about that tomorrow.
Even if it's still working, though, Phoenix's time is limited.
SMITH: The Sun completely sets next April, but when it starts getting low in the sky the amount of power you get from it is very low, so it will definitely be in a power-critical state long before that. But we will operate as long as we we are able to return science data.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2008
For more skywatching tips, astronomy news, and much more, read StarDate magazine.