A self-portrait by NASA’s Curiosity rover taken on Sol 2082 (June 15, 2018). A Martian dust storm has reduced sunlight and visibility at the rover’s location in Gale Crater. A drill hole can be seen in the rock to the left of the rover at a target site called “Duluth.”
It’s storm season on Mars. Dusty with a chance of dust is the weather report for Gale crater as a recent planet-scale dust storm rages. On June 10 looking toward the east-northeast crater rim, the Curiosity rover’s Mastcam captured this image of its local conditions so far. Meanwhile over 2,000 kilometers away, the Opportunity rover ceased science operations as the storm grew thicker at its location on the west rim of Endeavour crater, and has stopped communicating, waiting out the storm for now. Curiosity is powered by a radioisotope thermoelectric generator, but the smaller Opportunity rover uses solar panels to charge its batteries. For Opportunity, the increasingly severe lack of sunlight has caused its batteries to run low.
This set of images from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows a fierce dust storm is kicking up on Mars, with rovers on the surface indicated as icons.
This series of images shows simulated views of a darkening Martian sky blotting out the Sun from NASA’s Opportunity rover’s point of view, with the right side simulating Opportunity’s current view in the global dust storm (June 2018).
Phoenix was a robotic spacecraft on a space exploration mission on Mars under the Mars Scout Program. The Phoenix landerdescended on Mars on May 25, 2008. Mission scientists used instruments aboard the lander to search for environments suitable for microbial life on Mars, and to research the history of water there. The total mission cost was about US $386 million, which includes cost of the launch.
Phoenix during testing in September 2006.
Phoenix was NASA’s sixth successful landing out of seven attempts and was the first successful landing in a Martian polar region.
Phoenix Landing Site Indicated on Global View.
The lander completed its mission in August 2008, and made a last brief communication with Earth on November 2 as available solar power dropped with the Martian winter.
A thin layer of water frost is visible on the ground around NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander in this image taken by the Surface Stereo Imager at 6 a.m. on Sol 79 (August 14, 2008), the 79th Martian day after landing. The frost began to disappear shortly after 6 a.m. as the sun rose on the Phoenix landing site.
The mission was declared concluded on November 10, 2008, after engineers were unable to re-contact the craft. After unsuccessful attempts to contact the lander by the Mars Odyssey orbiter up to and past the Martian summer solstice on May 12, 2010, JPL declared the lander to be dead. The program was considered a success because it completed all planned science experiments and observations
This artist’s rendering shows a possible fate for the Phoenix Mars Lander.
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory made adjustments to the orbits of its two active satellites around Mars, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Odyssey, and the European Space Agency similarly adjusted the orbit of its Mars Express spacecraft to be in the right place on May 25, 2008 to observe Phoenix as it entered the atmosphere and then landed on the surface.
Descent of Phoenix with a crater in the background taken by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
This information helps designers to improve future landers. The projected landing area was an ellipse 100 km by 20 km covering terrain which has been informally named “Green Valley" and contains the largest concentration of water ice outside the poles.
Above the Martian arctic circle, the sun does not set during the peak of the Martian summer. But, this period of maximum solar energy is past. On Sol 86, or the 86th Martian day after Phoenix landed on the Red planet, the sun fully set behind a slight rise to the north for about half an hour.
Phoenix landed in the Green Valley of Vastitas Borealis on May 25, 2008, in the late Martian northern hemisphere spring, where the Sun shone on its solar panels the whole Martian day.
The landing was made on a flat surface, with the lander reporting only 0.3 degrees of tilt. Just before landing, the craft used its thrusters to orient its solar panels along an east-west axis to maximize power generation.
This black-and-white self-portrait shows Phoenix’s leg nestled in the Martian soil.
The lander waited 15 minutes before opening its solar panels, to allow dust to settle. The first images from the lander became available around 7:00 p.m. PDT (2008-05-26 02:00 UTC). The images show a surface strewn with pebbles and incised with small troughs into polygons about 5 m across and 10 cm high, with the expected absence of large rocks and hills.
Color versions of the photos showing ice sublimation, with the lower left corner of the trench enlarged in the insets in the upper right of the images.
On July 31, 2008 (sol 65), NASA announced that Phoenix confirmed the presence of water ice on Mars, as predicted in 2002 by the Mars Odyssey orbiter. During the initial heating cycle of a new sample, TEGA’s mass spectrometer detected water vapor when the sample temperature reached 0 °C. Liquid water cannot exist on the surface of Mars with its present low atmospheric pressure, except at the lowest elevations for short periods.
In 40 million years, Mars may have a ring (and one fewer moon)
Nothing lasts forever – especially Phobos, one of the two small moons orbiting Mars. The moonlet is spiraling closer and closer to the Red Planet on its way toward an inevitable collision with its host. But a new study suggests that pieces of Phobos will get a second life as a ring around the rocky planet.
A moon – or moonlet – in orbit around a planet has three possible destinies. If it is just the right distance from its host, it will stay in orbit indefinitely. If it’s beyond that point of equilibrium, it will slowly drift away. (This is the situation with the moon; as it gradually pulls away from Earth, its orbit is growing by about 1.5 inches per year.) And if a moon starts out on the too-close side, its orbit will keep shrinking until there is no distance left between it and its host planet.
The Martian ring will last for at least 1 million years – and perhaps for as long as 100 million years, according to the study.
The rest of Phobos will probably remain intact, until it hits the Martian surface. But it won’t be a direct impact; instead, the moonlet’s remains will strike at an oblique angle, skipping along the surface like a smooth stone on a calm lake.
This has probably happened before – scientists believe a group of elliptical craters on the Martian surface were caused by a small moon that skidded to its demise. (If this were to happen on Earth, our planet’s greater mass would produce a crash as big as the one that wiped out the dinosaurs, the researchers noted as an aside.)