The Phoenix lander (left) signed off while an Indian spacecraft pulled into an orbit around the Moon this week. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona; ISRO
As one space mission ends, another begins.
NASA announced this week that the agency has not received a signal from the Phoenix lander since November 2. The interplanetary flatline indicates that fading, seasonal sunlight has starved the craft of the solar energy needed to soldier on through the Martian autumn.
Researchers will keep listening to see if Phoenix chirps back to life, but worsening weather means that the lander has likely reached the end of its operational existence. In its extended five-month mission, the craft finally solved the major mystery about the presence of water on Mars. On-board sensors “tasted” the agua in August from melted ice in a soil sample.
Phoenix also detected snow flurries in clouds high in the Martian atmosphere, and revealed a mineral-rich, alkaline soil that a researcher described as suitable for growing asparagus (if the Red Planet were a good deal warmer, of course).
Scientists say they still have reams of data to pour over from Phoenix’s successful expedition, though the ultimate prize – extraterrestrial life – has yet to emerge on Earth’s little brother of a planet.
But don’t let Phoenix’s demise get you down. When you take a look at the Moon sometime over the next two years, think to yourself: India has a spacecraft orbiting that!
Called Chandrayaan-1, the lunar probe is India’s first astronomical mission beyond Earth’s orbit. Launched back in October by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), the spacecraft reached the Moon on Saturday. During its mission, the orbiter will use its bevy of instruments to scan the lunar surface and will fire off the Moon Impact Probe to – you guessed it – smash onto the cratered, barren moonscape and snap some pictures during its descent.
India accomplished this feat with help from the European Space Agency, NASA, and Bulgaria. Seeing all these different organizations and nations working together in the common pursuit of knowledge is an auspicious chapter in space exploration.
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Phoenix went out rather quietly . . . but see how it roared into the Red Planet just a few months ago.
With all this news of spacecraft performing well and making significant finds, how are things looking for manned exploration of the solar system?