Thursday, October 30, 2008

Mars Phoenix Lander nears end of mission

Nasa's Mars Phoenix lander has been sending back data for five months – far longer than the original three months it was supposed to last. However as the Martian fall begins the lander is slowly loosing power due to shorter days and fewer hours of sunlight reaching its solar panels.

Phoenix has run up an impressive list of discoveries. The lander has recorded snowfall, scraped up ice and found that the dust on the surface of Mars chemically resembles seawater, adding to evidence that liquid water – that may have supported life – once flowed on the planet's surface.

But now to conserve the remaining power, engineers will begin turning off Phoenix's internal heaters, one at a time. If this step is not taken, the electrical needs of the craft would soon surpass the minuscule amount that the solar cells now are generating. By turning off the heaters in a controlled fashion, Phoenix can continue doing science for several more weeks. The remaining experiments that do not require heating can operate for several weeks, but ultimately the cold will shut the lander down, ending the mission.

<- NewScientist via Dvice ->

No comments: