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Mars Space Science

The Phoenix Has Landed 369

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the zomg-we-found-ponys dept.
Iddo Genuth writes "Precisely at 7:53PM EST, the "Phoenix Mars Lander" touched-down on the desert-like surface of Mars. Since its launch on August 4th, 2007, the spacecraft has covered more than 680,752,512 kilometers, traveling at average speeds of around 120,000 km/hr. Upon arriving at its destination, the Phoenix will begin its exploration of our intriguing neighbor planet, in a mission to help astronomers resolve at least some of the many questions regarding Mars. The key question remains: can the Red Planet support some form of life?" Hella grats to our nerd brethren — you looked great on the Science channel. Yes I'm watching this live. Can't wait to see what happens next.
Update: 05/26 03:0 GMT by KD : zof sends a link to the first pictures from Phoenix.
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The Phoenix Has Landed

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  • live (Score:5, Funny)

    by Brian Gordon (987471) on Sunday May 25, 2008 @08:48PM (#23539645)
    Can't imagine it's very live what with the lightspeed delay..
  • by Penguinisto (415985) on Sunday May 25, 2008 @08:49PM (#23539647) Journal
    Personally, I think it would be damned cool if they found an indisputable fossil. It would force a whole lot of philosophical re-thinking, and probably give a huge-assed push towards getting humans into space (well, those who don't suddenly get scared silly and decide to crawl into a cave, hoping the aliens pass us by or somesuch).

    But then... what if they do find evidence of life? I mean large, complex forms of life, not some fossilized bacteria that everyone will debate and bitch about. That's what I'm hoping they dig up.

    /P

    • by Brian Gordon (987471) on Sunday May 25, 2008 @08:50PM (#23539661)
      What are the chances of puttering around for a few hundred meters on earth and randomly finding a human skeleton?..
      • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 25, 2008 @08:57PM (#23539713)
        In my neighborhood? Pretty good.
      • by Jeremi (14640) on Sunday May 25, 2008 @09:00PM (#23539739) Homepage
        A human skeleton? Not very high. But any skeleton? In areas that used to be underwater, you often find fossilized imprints of shellfish, etc, every few inches.
      • by dunezone (899268)
        What are the chances of puttering around on earth for a few hundred meters and finding a fossil? Its pretty good. All they have to do is find a fossil of something that once roamed around on the surface of mars or in the water that is now frozen. And I think the poster by meaning a large complex form of life is meaning something more advanced then bacteria.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Duhavid (677874)
        And one of them has something identifying him as "John Carter".
      • lander, not rover (Score:4, Informative)

        by Garganus (890454) on Sunday May 25, 2008 @09:16PM (#23539847)
        I understand your point. Just so we're all clear, though; Phoenix sits on legs, not wheels, so there will be no 'puttering around' the pole.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by CodeBuster (516420)
          I wonder, how long it would take either Spirit or Opportunity to drive there from their present locations if something interesting was found?
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            I wonder, how long it would take either Spirit or Opportunity to drive there from their present locations if something interesting was found?

            Decades? Centuries? Even assuming they'd survive that long, those little rovers aren't very fast. Less than walking speed even when operational, and they have to hibernate every winter. And their point of view is low enough they'd be doubling back a lot, I'd imagine.

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by shogun (657)
              Ok some quick (most likely way off) calculations to work out just how long that would be:

              The Phoenix lander is at about 234E 68N while Opportunity is at 1.95S, 5.53W and Spirit is at 14.57S, 175.47E.

              Using great circle distances Opportunity is about 6040km away while Spirit is a fair bit closer at 3830km.

              Assuming either rover travelling at their maximum top speed of 0.182km/h (not counting the need to stop and review the terrain every 10 seconds or to hibernate over winter) they would take this long to reach
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by SnowZero (92219)

        What are the chances of puttering around for a few hundred meters on earth and randomly finding a human skeleton?..

        Pretty good if you touch down at a well chosen landing site. You just need to find the Martian equivalent of the Manson ranch, or an empty lot with disturbed soil near the Martian Mafia. Given the planet's drying history, there would have been a lot of drifters, and similarly criminals to prey upon them.

        Some people say I've been reading to much Heinlein lately...

      • by stox (131684)
        We found a horse skeleton in my back yard. Apparently, it was buried there when this neighborhood was still farm country.
      • by Jeff Fohl (597433) on Sunday May 25, 2008 @09:33PM (#23539949) Homepage

        What are the chances of puttering around for a few hundred meters on earth and randomly finding a human skeleton?..
        I was surprised when I found that Phoenix has no mobility. But then, I have thought about it for all of 5 minutes, while the NASA engineers have thought about it for 5 years, so there must have been a good reason to leave that feature out.
        • The short answer, to keep inside the weight budget. When you add wheels, you need to compromise on the science instruments.

          So Phoenix packs much better science gear than the rovers, and to compensate they just try to drop it somewhere uniform and with a decent chance of finding what you are looking for regardless of the specific drop point.
        • What are the chances of puttering around for a few hundred meters on earth and randomly finding a human skeleton?..

          I was surprised when I found that Phoenix has no mobility. But then, I have thought about it for all of 5 minutes, while the NASA engineers have thought about it for 5 years, so there must have been a good reason to leave that feature out.

          Two reasons: The first is weight - mobility systems cost a great of it, and every gram alloted to them is a gram that can't be spent on science. Which also means that had it wheels, Phoenix would be limited to same modest science package the rovers have. The second is mission life time - unlike the rovers, the odds of Phoenix dying once winter comes are near unity. Which means that a notional wheeled Phoenix with it's much more modest science package won't cover much ground before freezing to death.
      • by mikael (484) on Sunday May 25, 2008 @09:39PM (#23539987)
        Wikipedia has an estimate of the total number of people that has ever lived [wikipedia.org] at 45 billion to 125 billion people.

        It also provides a map of population density in the world. Another article provides information on the surface area of the Earth. [wikipedia.org]

        Approximately 29.2% of the surface is dry land. 13.31% of this land is arable, with only 4.71% supporting permanent crops.

        148,940,000 km is dry land. (1.940 x 10^14 mÂ)

        Assuming a buried person takes up 1 square metre.

        Assume that there have been 120 billion skeletons buried all over the place (125 minus 5 billion still living).

        Then you have 1.20 x 10^11 / (1.940 x 10^14 mÂ)

        which gives 1.20 / 1.940 x 10^-3

        or 0.000618556

        6.18556 x 10^-3

        So, you have a 1/1616 chance of finding a skeleton. Your odds will be affected by the cultural traditions of the local population, the local geology (limestone will dissolve bone). The natives might think twice about burying tribe members on farm land.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Solandri (704621)

          So, you have a 1/1616 chance of finding a skeleton.

          For probabilities with very large n (120 billion in this case), what I'm going to say doesn't make much difference. But for the sake of correctness, you're assuming no two skeletons are buried in the same place. The proper way to do it is to calculate the chance that none of those skeletons are in the spot you're inspecting. If you inspect one square meter, the chances of that are [1 - ( 1/1.4894x10^14 ) ] ^ 120 billion. Subtract from 1 to get the chan

    • I'm personally hoping they find something much more sinister! Cthulhu fhtagn! (see sig for a clue)
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by badmanone (806884)

      But then... what if they do find evidence of life? I mean large, complex forms of life, not some fossilized bacteria that everyone will debate and bitch about. That's what I'm hoping they dig up.

      Uh, only then we would be forced to worship that life's crystal skeletons...
    • That's what I'm hoping they dig up.

      I'm hoping it finds Jimmy Hoffa. Or maybe the second gunman.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by gmuslera (3436)
      What kind of philosophical rethinking? that life ever could only exist in Earth? Thats looks more religion than philosophy.

      Or science, if there is an agreement that Mars could had never sustained complex/big lifeforms.

      Or, as someone else suggested, math, because we beat badly the odds of finding something life related doing a relatively very short trip in something that looks more like a desert than a jungle (well, in this case we will go back to religion very soon).
  • "Precisely?" (Score:2, Offtopic)

    by Quadraginta (902985)
    A completely minor comment, but I'm struck by that strange and vaguely illiterate use of "precisely." I mean, could the spacecraft not touch down at some "precise" instant? Isn't it the nature of momentary events like touchdown to, well, happen in one precise moment?

    I guess if it exploded and came down in pieces, it might not touch down at one instant, so maybe the fact that it touched down at precisely 7.53, instead of at roughly 7.53 (with some parts coming in early at 7.50 and a few stragglers not maki
    • by Enleth (947766)
      I think he meant that the value ("7:53PM EST") given as a reference to the Earth time is precisely (that is, with an implied, practical amount of measurement inaccuracy, but a small and acceptable one even by the scientific standards) in accordance with the actual, momentary act of the lander touching down.

      If picking nits, do it properly. ;)
      • by Enleth (947766)
        Oh, and, well - excuse me for replying to my own posts, but I just can't resist - if you really want to be precise, note that the touchdown was not by any means perfectly momentary. It could have taken even a few seconds, maybe the lander touched the ground, then lifted a few centimeters, then finally rested still on the surface.

        You know, even pressing a microswitch like the one in your mouse is not a momentary action from the microcontroller's point of view - it needs an explicit "debouncing" theshold of a
      • I think he meant that the value ("7:53PM EST") given as a reference to the Earth time is precisely (that is, with an implied, practical amount of measurement inaccuracy, but a small and acceptable one even by the scientific standards)
        Specifically, one hour.

        Or maybe he forgot to set his clocks forward.
    • by SnowZero (92219)

      A completely minor comment, but I'm struck by that strange and vaguely illiterate use of "precisely." I mean, could the spacecraft not touch down at some "precise" instant? Isn't it the nature of momentary events like touchdown to, well, happen in one precise moment?

      Well, both prior Mars missions using airbags did not touch down at a precise moment, having bounced, tumbled, and rolled for a significant period of time. So maybe this is a a deep reference to the use of rockets+legs for landing, and the fact that they really stuck the landing.

      Then again maybe not, but if you're going to read too much into TFS, the best I can do is return the favor. Have a nice day :)

  • by spoco2 (322835) on Sunday May 25, 2008 @09:05PM (#23539779)
    To have a successful landing of this sort on Mars is brilliant, and continues to build hope that there might be a manned mission there in my lifetime, I can only hope.

    Ever since I read the Mars Trilogy (red, green, blue) I have really hoped that it could come true in some way like those books show. (not all the bad obviously)... I would love to see it start, I really would.
    • To have a successful landing of this sort on Mars is brilliant, and continues to build hope that there might be a manned mission there in my lifetime, I can only hope.

      Other than the good feeling of putting a human on Mars what is the point? I'd rather see technology on Earth progress to the point where there insn't a reason to not send a person to Mars.
      Space races are all fine and dandy for countries to show off, but don't confuse such events with real scientific advancement.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Enleth (947766)
        There actually is a lot of scientific advancement, in the form of all the technology that needs to be invented, designed and perfected. If you hava some spare time and do a bit of research, you'll realise that a lot of supposedly everyday items and technologies we use now are possible due to the space races during the Cold War. For example, the materials used for space suits and heat shields were a starting point for some of the today's textiles used for clothing and construction materials for industrial ma
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Martin Blank (154261)
        Define what a "real" scientific advancement would be, please.
      • by spoco2 (322835) on Sunday May 25, 2008 @11:18PM (#23540539)
        Would you have said the same thing to people inventing the sailing ship all those moons ago?

        "Oh, other than the feeling of putting people on another country, what's the point?"

        It's attitudes like this, that are so very narrow and shallow minded that cause people to become insular and think only of their own back yard in all affairs.

        Other than the scientific achievements in doing this, there is the overall good it does to the human spirit to see ourselves as a race be able to conquer the distances, to think of a huge problem like this and surmount it with science.

        If it encourages kids to do more in the way of science rather than religious persecution etc., I'm all for it.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by servognome (738846)

          Would you have said the same thing to people inventing the sailing ship all those moons ago?

          It's apples & oranges - They didn't have the ability to send out automated ships to do exploration. Ships were sent out not for the mere purpose of exploration, but to discover trade opportunities. Explorers were travelling in a resource rich environment (food & water was likely available). And lastly the technology to send explorers was easily transferable to send settlers/tradesmen to profit from the voy

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Bottlemaster (449635)

        Other than the good feeling of putting a human on Mars what is the point? I'd rather see technology on Earth progress to the point where there insn't a reason to not send a person to Mars.
        Space races are all fine and dandy for countries to show off, but don't confuse such events with real scientific advancement.

        There isn't a point, and our solar system has much more useful places to colonize. Putting a man on Mars is akin to masturbation. I used to feel the same way until I saw this photograph, taken by S [wikimedia.org]

  • Congratulations... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by JavaBasedOS (1217930) on Sunday May 25, 2008 @09:08PM (#23539793)
    ... to those scientists that worked hard and put both heart and soul for at least a decade on Phoenix. I can't wait to see what images and data we get from Phoenix.

    It's going to be an eventful summer here on Earth, that's for sure.
  • Oh yeah... We all heard that [ufos-aliens.co.uk] before.
  • What gets me is... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jamstar7 (694492) on Sunday May 25, 2008 @09:11PM (#23539819)
    all the work that went into the mission so far that made this look easy. It wasn't. But they did a helluva job on the prep work to make it look like business as usual.

    Great job, JPL & Arizona!

  • Junkyboy55 (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Junkyboy55 (1183037) <pavan@t[ ]obot.net ['ekn' in gap]> on Sunday May 25, 2008 @09:11PM (#23539821) Homepage
    Knowing some of the engineers that work on and manage these programs I am very happy with landing and everything it represents. More so I am looking forward to other robots, not the rover type but different task oriented machines like Robonaut [nasa.gov] and Chariot [nasa.gov] to make it off of Earth!
  • by WindBourne (631190) on Sunday May 25, 2008 @09:19PM (#23539859) Journal
    Years ago, we put vikings up on mars. The more amazing in that they were nuke powered. Now, we fight about it all the time. Even phoenix would be better served had it been nuke powered. But now, about half of the ppl do not want human systems going, another group fights sending nuke power up, and another wants NASA dead altogether. Back in the 60's and 70's, we all came together on saying that ALL of this was important; Long term robotic probes AND human missions AND the environment (as we understood it). It was not one vs. the other.

    A couple of days ago, I mentioned that the reason for human missions to the moon was because of uranium/plutonium. Yet, ppl were upset about what a waste human missions were without realizing that we could fire up new MUCH LARGER missions to mars and elsewhere and let them use plutonium. I never bought off on W's idea that the moon would be a good launch pad based on the hydrogen that is there. But if we have LOADS of plutonium, that is a different matter. We can easily rail launch missions combined with large amount of energy via plutonium without worrying about it being spread all over the earth's atmosphere. Hopefully, at some point, Americans realize that one idea does not need to preclude another. For instance, human missions do not need to prevent robotics from going (or vs. versa).
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Tablizer (95088)
      Back in the 60's and 70's, we all came together on saying that ALL of this was important

      No we weren't [youtube.com].
           
    • by Gertlex (722812)
      Actually, we don't have that much plutonium on hand for NASA's use.
      http://www.space.com/news/080306-nasa-plutonium-shortage-fin.html [space.com]
      • And that is why the moon is of UTMOST interest to us. It turns out that it has URANIUM. Uranium that can be bred into plutonium. That plutonium can be used on the moon, for long distance mission travel, for fast travel mission, for staying on mars, etc.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Waffle Iron (339739)
          We currently have more plutonium right here on earth than we know what to do with. Spent nuclear fuel and disassembled nuclear weapons both contain plutonium and contribute to the current glut. We are burning some of it up in nuclear reactors, and we're trying to figure out how to safely bury the rest. What's actually in short supply is the specific isotope used to power: RTGs Pu-238.

          The problem is not a shortage of raw materials (Pu-238 is currently made by irradiating components of otherwise useless n

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            The problem is that the steps involved in production and extraction of the isotope can also be used in the manufacture of weapons
            Fixed that for you. It's mostly a political problem.
            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by Waffle Iron (339739)
              The US government already knows how to make nuclear weapons the easy way, so the US government chemically extracting neptunium 237 from waste and irradiating it in a reactor to make Pu-238 would not be a proliferation threat. Moreover, neither of those isotopes is used in weapons.

              It has simply been easier for us to buy the stuff from Russia over the last couple of decades. (This probably has had the beneficial side effect of keeping some of their nuclear technicians gainfully employed.)

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by moosesocks (264553)
      If we can effectively achieve the goals of the mission without using a nuclear reactor, we're almost certainly better off.

      Although there are certainly applications for nuclear power on interplanetary spacecraft, I don't think that it would have been appropriate for a small stationary scientific probe.

      Once the probe has done its stuff, and examined the surface around its landing site, there's not a whole lot much more it can do. Mission accomplished.

      And even as much as fears regarding nuclear power may be
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by evilviper (135110)

        And even as much as fears regarding nuclear power may be overstated, Plutonium is, and will always be pretty scary stuff. We don't want to contaminate our atmosphere, oceans, and land, and also don't want to do the same to the surface of Mars.

        This is pure ignorance talking. Having an RTG around isn't going to "contaminate" anything. They are fully sealed, and even in the worst case, can withstand extremely severe impacts without releasing any fissile material.

        And in the worst case??? We end up with a bou

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 25, 2008 @10:25PM (#23540263)
      Hello, NASA engineer here. Look up the Mars Science Lander (MSL) mission being built at JPL (link below). Nuke powered and huge. Upgrade from the Vikings mission since it has WHEELS. Will launch in September 2009.

      http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by caluml (551744)
        Just think! If you had an account, you'd have 5 Karma points now. That'd give you something interesting to talk about no, rather than boring the people down the pub with nuclear powered rocket this, space travel, that, and aliens on Mars the other. :)
  • I, and many others, missed the live stream. If someone could hook up the rest of us with the landing video footage, that would be awesome!

    - DaftShadow
  • by freefrag (728150) on Sunday May 25, 2008 @09:24PM (#23539905)
    Amidst of rumors of yet another invasion by the heinous creatures of the blue planet, the most Illustrious Council of Elders confirmed that another mechanical war machine recently landed successfully on the homeworld. K'breel, speaker for the Council, stressed that plans for defense were well underway:

    Gentle Citizens, today my gelsacs frumple in anticipation of the successful counterattack on the two-eyed monsters of the blue planet. Our sources indicate that while their latest mechanical terror has an experimental weapon to bore into our colonies, it has landed far from our podhomes and will soon be destroyed by this zunok's unusually powerful dust storms. Victory against our enemies is near! Our scientists report that our climate disruptor probes are currently in full operation and will make the blue planet uninhabitable within the next 5 zon.
    When dissenters questioned whether the warming of our enemy's planet was due to his own self-destructive habits or our weaponry, K'Breel ordered their gelsacs pierced on the spot.
  • by teh moges (875080) on Sunday May 25, 2008 @09:41PM (#23539995) Homepage
    Phoenix Mars Lander Touched Down 2 Hours ago
  • by Cyko_01 (1092499) on Sunday May 25, 2008 @09:43PM (#23540003) Homepage
    was I the only one who saw the phoenix project logo [phoenixprojectma.org] and thought it looked remarkably similar the Firefox logo? Firefox was originally called phoenix was it not? Coincidence? I think not!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 25, 2008 @09:52PM (#23540043)
    Units.

    Phoenix went exactly 423,000,000 miles at the leisurely pace of 20.7 miles a second.

    Now if we had done something really COOL, like drive there in a Jeep Commander, we would have used 22,263,157 gallons of gas and been MUCH better prepared for Mars.

    Someone will bitch about fuel cost. OK, look at this: at $4/gallon it would cost $108,972,294 -- that's $411,027,706 cheaper than this $520M "good deal". Jeep is currently offering a $2.99 gas lock-in which would bring the total savings to $453,433,160. I mean WOW, they could spend the rest on parties and just tell us it's really, really complicated.

    Now ask if the Phoenix has 4 wheel drive. Or A/C. Or the peace of mind knowing it's fully covered under a manufacturer's warranty.

    Tough to beat if you ask me..
  • Pictures Already (Score:3, Informative)

    by GreggBz (777373) on Sunday May 25, 2008 @10:13PM (#23540177) Homepage
    Within minutes of the first downlink, pictures were available on the net.

    one [arizona.edu]
    two [arizona.edu]
    three [arizona.edu]

    That's fantastic.
  • Precisely at 7:53PM EST
    Precisely wrong. Doesn't anyone know what "EST" stands for? First person to answer correctly gets to leave class early.
  • NASA web site (Score:4, Interesting)

    by KC1P (907742) on Sunday May 25, 2008 @10:29PM (#23540283) Homepage
    I wish NASA wouldn't get so distracted during the "fun" part of these missions. It seems like a regular pattern, they set up frankly a pretty awesome web site, put up a countdown timer, plaster it with nice background articles and then update it very regularly ... until something happens. Then it's frozen in time for an hour or two (this time all they could come up with was "we got a signal") while they're all slapping each other five and pouring champagne into their consoles. The $420 million (or whatever it was) came out of our pockets, all I ask is that they get *one* intern to stay sober at the golden moment and clue in those of us who don't get the Science Channel.

    Anyway it's great to see they pulled it off. It's weird how so many space shots worked on the first try and then we totally blew the next half-dozen tries. I blame the Martian strategic defense system.
  • Mars bar (Score:5, Funny)

    by personalo (1272724) on Sunday May 25, 2008 @10:36PM (#23540317) Homepage
    The best thing they could possibly find would be a mars bar. It would be too funny if some NASA guy threw one in so that it would pop out on landing.
  • The Hell? (Score:3, Funny)

    by Ihmhi (1206036) <i_have_mental_health_issues@yahoo.com> on Sunday May 25, 2008 @11:14PM (#23540525)

    Did they launch this thing before color photography was invented?

  • by kegon (766647) on Monday May 26, 2008 @12:05AM (#23540763)
    Am I the only one who thinks it's ironic we are the ones putting 3 legged machines on Mars... ?
  • by PPH (736903) on Monday May 26, 2008 @12:48AM (#23540971)
    Particularly this [arizona.edu] one. I can make out the flag on the next green, just below the horizon. It looks like a PAR 3 with a 7-iron.

There is no royal road to geometry. -- Euclid

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