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Phoenix Visits the Northern Plain - May 2008

Dateline Mars, May 28, 2008:  The big news, post landing, is that the HiRis  camera captured the picture below of the Phoenix spacecraft suspended by it's parchute as it drift down range for a landing.  The finding are the polygons shaped features on the surface of the polar plain.  These features are on Earth in northern areas that experience extreme freezing and cooling near our own poles.  Polygons were thought to have been seen from the MOC and HiRes cameras, this is confirmation.  We are about to get are rebotic mits on some Martian soil!

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera acquired this image of Phoenix hanging from its parachute as it descended to the Martian surface. Shown here is a 10 kilometer (6 mile) diameter crater informally called "Heimdall," and an improved full-resolution image of the parachute and lander. Although it appears that Phoenix is descending into the crater, it is actually about 20 kilometers (about 12 miles) in front of the crater.

The Phoenix Mission is led by the University of Arizona, Tucson, on behalf of NASA. Project management of the mission is by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. Spacecraft development is by Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/phoenix/images.php?fileID=9448

phoenixdescent.jpg

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phxlandscape3800.jpg

This is a raw, or unprocessed, image taken by the Phoenix lander on Mars, May 25, 2008. This is a screen grab taken from NASA TV.  
http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/phoenix/images-all.php?fileID=6320

phxlandscapebr.jpg

This image mosaic was acquired by the surface stereo imager right instrument of the Phoenix spacecraft on the surface of Mars. It was taken between 2008-05-26T00:19:03.098 and 2008-05-26T00:19:03.274 local time. This mosaic is presented in a cylindrical projection.
Credit: NASA/JPL  http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/phoenix/images-all.php?fileID=6332

  

Guy Webster 818-354-6278
Jet Propulsion Laboratory,
Pasadena , Calif.
guy.webster@jpl.nasa.gov

Dwayne Brown 202-358-1726
NASA Headquarters, Washington 
                                                                              
dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov

Lori Stiles 520-626-4402
University of Arizona, Tucson
lstiles@email.arizona.edu

NEWS RELEASE: 2008-205                                                                          Nov. 10, 2008

Mars Phoenix Lander Finishes Successful Work on Red Planet

LOS ANGELES, Calif. -- NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander has ceased communications after operating for more than five months. As anticipated, seasonal decline in sunshine at the robot's arctic landing site is not providing enough sunlight for the solar arrays to collect the power necessary to charge batteries that operate the lander's instruments. 

Mission engineers last received a signal from the lander on Nov. 2. Phoenix, in addition to shorter daylight, has encountered a dustier sky, more clouds and colder temperatures as the northern Mars summer approaches autumn. The mission exceeded its planned operational life of three months to conduct and return science data.

The project team will be listening carefully during the next few weeks to hear if Phoenix revives and phones home. However, engineers now believe that is unlikely because of the worsening weather conditions on Mars. While the spacecraft's work has ended, the analysis of data from the instruments is in its earliest stages.

" Phoenix has given us some surprises, and I'm confident we will be pulling more gems from this trove of data for years to come," said Phoenix Principal Investigator Peter Smith of the University of Arizona in Tucson .

Launched Aug. 4, 2007, Phoenix landed May 25, 2008, farther north than any previous spacecraft to land on the Martian surface. The lander dug, scooped, baked, sniffed and tasted the Red Planet's soil. Among early results, it verified the presence of water-ice in the Martian subsurface, which NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter first detected remotely in 2002. Phoenix 's cameras also returned more than 25,000 pictures from sweeping vistas to near the atomic level using the first atomic force microscope ever used outside Earth.

"Phoenix not only met the tremendous challenge of landing safely, it accomplished scientific investigations on 149 of its 152 Martian days as a result of dedicated work by a talented team," said Phoenix Project Manager Barry Goldstein at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

Phoenix's preliminary science accomplishments advance the goal of studying whether the Martian arctic environment has ever been favorable for microbes. Additional findings include documenting a mildly alkaline soil environment unlike any found by earlier Mars missions; finding small concentrations of salts that could be nutrients for life; discovering perchlorate salt, which has implications for ice and soil properties; and finding calcium carbonate, a marker of effects of liquid water.

Phoenix findings also support the goal of learning the history of water on Mars. These findings include excavating soil above the ice table, revealing at least two distinct types of ice deposits; observing snow descending from clouds; providing a mission-long weather record, with data on temperature, pressure, humidity and wind; observations of haze, clouds, frost and whirlwinds; and coordinating with NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to perform simultaneous ground and orbital observations of Martian weather.

" Phoenix provided an important step to spur the hope that we can show Mars was once habitable and possibly supported life," said Doug McCuistion, director of the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington . " Phoenix was supported by orbiting NASA spacecraft providing communications relay while producing their own fascinating science. With the upcoming launch of the Mars Science Laboratory, the Mars Program never sleeps."

The University of Arizona leads the Phoenix mission with project management at JPL and development partnership at Lockheed Martin Corporation in Denver. International contributions came from the Canadian Space Agency; the University of Neuchatel, Switzerland; the universities of Copenhagen and Aarhus in Denmark; the Max Planck Institute in Germany; the Finnish Meteorological Institute; and Imperial College of London.

For additional information about Phoenix mission findings, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/phoenix or http://phoenix.lpl.arizona.edu .







Guy Webster 818-354-6278
Jet Propulsion Laboratory,
Pasadena , Calif.
guy.webster@jpl.nasa.gov

Dwayne Brown 202-358-1726
NASA Headquarters, Washington 
                                                                              
dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov

Lori Stiles 520-626-4402
University of Arizona, Tucson
lstiles@email.arizona.edu

NEWS RELEASE: 2008-205                                                                          Nov. 10, 2008

Mars Phoenix Lander Finishes Successful Work on Red Planet

LOS ANGELES, Calif. -- NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander has ceased communications after operating for more than five months. As anticipated, seasonal decline in sunshine at the robot's arctic landing site is not providing enough sunlight for the solar arrays to collect the power necessary to charge batteries that operate the lander's instruments. 

Mission engineers last received a signal from the lander on Nov. 2. Phoenix, in addition to shorter daylight, has encountered a dustier sky, more clouds and colder temperatures as the northern Mars summer approaches autumn. The mission exceeded its planned operational life of three months to conduct and return science data.

The project team will be listening carefully during the next few weeks to hear if Phoenix revives and phones home. However, engineers now believe that is unlikely because of the worsening weather conditions on Mars. While the spacecraft's work has ended, the analysis of data from the instruments is in its earliest stages.

" Phoenix has given us some surprises, and I'm confident we will be pulling more gems from this trove of data for years to come," said Phoenix Principal Investigator Peter Smith of the University of Arizona in Tucson .

Launched Aug. 4, 2007, Phoenix landed May 25, 2008, farther north than any previous spacecraft to land on the Martian surface. The lander dug, scooped, baked, sniffed and tasted the Red Planet's soil. Among early results, it verified the presence of water-ice in the Martian subsurface, which NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter first detected remotely in 2002. Phoenix 's cameras also returned more than 25,000 pictures from sweeping vistas to near the atomic level using the first atomic force microscope ever used outside Earth.

"Phoenix not only met the tremendous challenge of landing safely, it accomplished scientific investigations on 149 of its 152 Martian days as a result of dedicated work by a talented team," said Phoenix Project Manager Barry Goldstein at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

Phoenix's preliminary science accomplishments advance the goal of studying whether the Martian arctic environment has ever been favorable for microbes. Additional findings include documenting a mildly alkaline soil environment unlike any found by earlier Mars missions; finding small concentrations of salts that could be nutrients for life; discovering perchlorate salt, which has implications for ice and soil properties; and finding calcium carbonate, a marker of effects of liquid water.

Phoenix findings also support the goal of learning the history of water on Mars. These findings include excavating soil above the ice table, revealing at least two distinct types of ice deposits; observing snow descending from clouds; providing a mission-long weather record, with data on temperature, pressure, humidity and wind; observations of haze, clouds, frost and whirlwinds; and coordinating with NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to perform simultaneous ground and orbital observations of Martian weather.

" Phoenix provided an important step to spur the hope that we can show Mars was once habitable and possibly supported life," said Doug McCuistion, director of the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington . " Phoenix was supported by orbiting NASA spacecraft providing communications relay while producing their own fascinating science. With the upcoming launch of the Mars Science Laboratory, the Mars Program never sleeps."

The University of Arizona leads the Phoenix mission with project management at JPL and development partnership at Lockheed Martin Corporation in Denver. International contributions came from the Canadian Space Agency; the University of Neuchatel, Switzerland; the universities of Copenhagen and Aarhus in Denmark; the Max Planck Institute in Germany; the Finnish Meteorological Institute; and Imperial College of London.

For additional information about Phoenix mission findings, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/phoenix or http://phoenix.lpl.arizona.edu .







Guy Webster 818-354-6278
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena , Calif.
guy.webster@jpl.nasa.gov

Dwayne Brown 202-358-1726
NASA Headquarters, Washington                                                                                           
dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov

Jennifer Huergo 240-228-5618
Johns Hopkins University
Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Md.
jennifer.huergo@jhuapl.edu

NEWS RELEASE: 2008-198                                                                          Oct. 28, 2008

NASA Orbiter Reveals Details of a Wetter Mars

PASADENA, Calif. -- NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has observed a new category of minerals spread across large regions of Mars. This discovery suggests that liquid water remained on the planet's surface a billion years later than scientists believed, and it played an important role in shaping the planet's surface and possibly hosting life.

Researchers examining data from the orbiter's Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars have found evidence of hydrated silica, commonly known as opal. The hydrated, or water-containing, mineral deposits are telltale signs of where and when water was present on ancient Mars.

"This is an exciting discovery because it extends the time range for liquid water on Mars, and the places where it might have supported life," said Scott Murchie, the spectrometer's principal investigator at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel , Md. "The identification of opaline silica tells us that water may have existed as recently as 2 billion years ago."

Until now, only two major groups of hydrated minerals, phyllosilicates and hydrated sulfates, had been observed by spacecraft orbiting Mars. Clay-like phyllosilicates formed more than 3.5 billion years ago where igneous rock came into long-term contact with water. During the next several hundred million years, until approximately 3 billion years ago, hydrated sulfates formed from the evaporation of salty and sometimes acidic water.

The newly discovered opaline silicates are the youngest of the three types of hydrated minerals. They formed where liquid water altered materials created by volcanic activity or meteorite impact on the Martian surface. One such location noted by scientists is the large Martian canyon system called Valles Marineris. 

"We see numerous outcrops of opal-like minerals, commonly in thin layers extending for very long distances around the rim of Valles Marineris and sometimes within the canyon system itself," said Ralph Milliken of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena , Calif.

Milliken is lead author of an article in the November issue of "Geology" that describes the identification of opaline silica. The study reveals that the minerals, which also were recently found in Gusev Crater by NASA's Mars rover Spirit, are widespread and occur in relatively young terrains.

In some locations, the orbiter's spectrometer observed opaline silica with iron sulfate minerals, either in or around dry river channels. This indicates the acidic water remained on the Martian surface for an extended period of time. Milliken and his colleagues believe that in these areas, low-temperature acidic water was involved in forming the opal. In areas where there is no clear evidence that the water was acidic, deposits may have formed under a wide range of conditions.

"What's important is that the longer liquid water existed on Mars, the longer the window during which Mars may have supported life," says Milliken. "The opaline silica deposits would be good places to explore to assess the potential for habitability on Mars, especially in these younger terrains." 

The spectrometer collects 544 colors, or wavelengths, of reflected sunlight to detect minerals on the surface of Mars. Its highest resolution is about 20 times sharper than any previous look at the planet in near-infrared wavelengths.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington . Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver , is the prime contractor for the project and built the spacecraft. The Applied Physics Laboratory led the effort to build the spectrometer and operates the instrument in coordination with an international team of researchers from universities, government and the private sector.

More information about the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is at http://www.nasa.gov/mro .

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