October 23, 2017

Astro-Vid Of the Week: Happy Birthday Mars Odyssey!

Mars Odyssey as seen from Mars Global Surveyor in 2005.

Credit: NASA

An often overlooked but crucial mission celebrates its 13th full year in space today. On April 7th, 2001, a Delta II rocket lifted off into the late Florida morning from Cape Canaveral carrying the Mars Odyssey spacecraft. Mars Odyssey was designed to study Mars from orbit and reached the Red Planet on October 24th of the same year. [Read more...]

Hailing Phoenix.

The receding ice in the region of the Phoenix Lander as seen from HiRise. (Credit:NASA/JPL/Caltech/Texas A&M University.

The receding ice in the region of the Phoenix Lander as seen from HiRise. (Credit:NASA/JPL/Caltech/Texas A&M University.

This week, engineers at NASAís Jet Propulsion Laboratory will begin listening for a very special phone call; that of the Phoenix Lander on the northern polar region of Mars.†Spring is in the air on the northern hemisphere of Mars, and bets are on as to whether the Lander survived the bleak Martian winter. Already, the outlook isnít stellar; Phoenix has more than likely been encased in CO2 ice for several months; and donít forget, the Martian year and seasons are roughly twice as long as here on Earth! Add to the fact the Mars is close to aphelion in its relatively eccentric orbit, and the odds donít look good. †To phone home, Phoenix will need to recharge its spent batteries to a point where its automated broadcasting can kick in; the solar angle is currently about the same as when scientists lost contact last year. If it does start transmitting, Mars Odyssey currently in orbit will be listening. Odyssey passes over the landing site about 10 times a day, and will listen in over the next few months. †The sixth successful landing on the Red Planet and only the third successful soft landing, Phoenix returned some first rate science, and gave us concrete evidence of water ice lurking just below the Martian soil. Now approaching opposition, Mars is rising low in the east just after dusk; more on that next week! For now, Letís hope that Phoenix lives up to its namesake and rises from the dead!