In the far northern reaches of a lifeless desert, a visitor has just arrived. This visitor is inquisitive, seeking to uncover the ancient history of Mars. When Phoenix arrived at Mars last weekend, it slammed into the Martian atmosphere at 13,000 miles per hour and was subsequently slowed to 5 miles per hour in under 7 minutes. High overhead, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, a glorified spy satellite, began snapping pictures and relaying them to Earth. On the surface, the Lander has begun its three month long task to find water in the frozen north pole of the red planet. The process is going to be slow, as the Lander takes extremely small samples of the Martian surface, digging only centimeters into the surface at a time. The turn around on taking a sample and analyzing it is slower than a snails pace, taking almost 15 days per cycle. In the end, we will have a better understanding of the composition of Mars and we will better understand the role of liquid water in Mar’s history? Why is this important? Water is the fundamental basis for all living organisms on Earth. If Mars was once covered in liquid water, then microbial life may have once lived there.
Already there has been a small setback as the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s radio has had a malfunction and cannot currently communicate with the Phoenix. This delay is expected to be repaired in hours though and is not a threat to the mission. Since it landed, Phoenix has been sending pictures back to NASA. NASA has been using a strategy of corporate transparency with this mission, so you can find all of the pictures at NASA.gov. You can also find a repository of pictures on Wikipedia. The pictures may not seem all that impressive unless you think, “These pictures are from another planet!”