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Phoenix Lander in Springtime

Published by Matt on Mon Jan 18, 2010 11:20 am via: HiRISE
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With early spring at the Phoenix landing site comes the progressive sublimation of the carbon dioxide frost that has blanketed the lander and surrounding terrain throughout the winter.

Phoenix Lander in Springtime. Credit: NASA/JPL

Phoenix Lander in Springtime. Credit: NASA/JPL

During the long polar-winter night atmospheric carbon dioxide freezes onto the surface building up a layer of frost roughly 30 centimeters (about one foot) thick. In the spring this frost returns to atmosphere gas (sublimates) over the course of several months. This image, part of a seasonal frost monitoring sequence, shows some areas of bare ground are beginning to be exposed. However, extensive frost patches remain in the topographic lows, such as the troughs of the local polygonally patterned surface.

The solar arrays on the lander were clearly discernable from their distinctive bluish color in HiRISE images acquired last Martian northern summer. The enhanced color image has green boxes around the backshell (top), heat shield, and lander (bottom). They are not discernable in this new image, probably because the patchy frost effectively camouflages them.

Even when the frost has completely sublimated, dust deposited during the winter may obscure them. The parachute attached to the backshell is also not apparent in this image, and we’ll see if it reappears in later images. Also gone are the dark halos around the lander, backshell, and heat shield, again due to seasonal frost and/or dust. This and future images will help calibrate expectations for finding the Mars Polar Lander hardware which encountered Mars in 1999.

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