Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Search for the Mars Polar Lander

HiRISE has helped the successful Mars Exploration Rovers and Phoenix Lander by giving these teams an "eye-in-the-sky" view. We are also trying to help understand why some missions were not successful.

One such mission was the Mars Polar Lander which went permanently silent after entering the Martian atmosphere in December 1999. It is speculated that the landing sequence failed when the legs were deployed and accidentally reported that the lander was on the ground. As a consequence, the parachute was cut while the lander was actually hundreds of feet in the air.

This HiRISE image is one of a sequence searching for either the parachute or the crumpled lander on the ground. However, we expect the debris from this mission to be covered with dust and ice, making it a challenge to identify them. The more eyes that search these images the better, so try your luck!

Most of the surface is covered with patches of small channels. It is thought that these have been carved by vaporized ice. On Mars, the ice goes straight to a gas (a process called "sublimation") rather than first melting. So, as the ice heats in the spring and summer, gas is generated and flows under the remaining ice. This flowing gas can move dust and slowly carve small channels.

Photo credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

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