Despite its best efforts, NASA’s orbiter Mars Odyssey hasn’t heard a beep from the thawing Phoenix lander, the US space agency announced today.
Although highly unlikely, it was hoped that the lander might wake from its extended hibernation, signaling that it survived the last harsh Martian winter.
The lander went silent in November 2008 and it’s looking increasingly likely that things aren’t going to change.
It’s currently mid-springtime in the Red Planet’s northern hemisphere and the sun is gradually rising above the horizon, providing about 22 hours of continuous sunlight per day (or “sol” — that’s Martian for “day”). Phoenix should be receiving about as much sunlight as it did shortly after its 3 month primary mission ended.
In proud Mars robot style, the highly successful Phoenix mission was extended for another two months until the sunlight was too weak for its solar panels to generate enough electricity to survive.
The lander then slipped into “Lazarus mode” when it was shut down to conserve battery power, switching back on periodically to “check in” with mission control. By Nov. 10, 2008, it didn’t even have enough energy to switch on again. Phoenix was declared dead.
But that hasn’t stopped Odyssey from listening for Phoenix on the off-chance that the lander’s solar panels survived being frozen in solid carbon dioxide (dry ice) at temperatures as low as -195 degrees Fahrenheit (-126 degrees Celsius). If the electronics are still intact, perhaps the batteries will start to charge, waking up Phoenix’s instrumentation. But that’s a long shot.
Alas, this is the second week-long campaign Odyssey has attempted to hail Phoenix. The first was in January and this attempt started on Feb. 22, ending on Feb. 26 after 50 satellite flyovers. A third (and probably final) week-long attempt will be made in April 2010 when the sun is high in the sky, giving Phoenix the perfect opportunity to power-up.
Unfortunately it looks as if Phoenix is still dead and it’s looking increasingly likely that it will stay that way.