Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Phoenix: The Science Starts...

The Phoenix lander has started doing what it was made to do: investigate the northern plains of Mars. The science team at Tuscon must be jumping for joy...

Yesterday one of the orbiters used its telescopic camera to image Phoenix's landing site. They hit paydirt: not only did they find Phoenix itself, but they imaged the parachute/backshell and the heat shield. To my surprise, the heat shield is a little closer to the lander than the parachute/backshell.

The photo at right shows all these details (click to expand).

Meanwhile, the stereo imager on the lander has begun the job of mapping the area around the lander. The imaging team is assembling a mosaic from hundreds of individual images, each of which captures a tiny piece of the total scene. As the days go by, more and more of this will be filled in, until eventually the entire surrounding scene will have been imaged in full color.

This mapping exercise has direct science benefits itself. It is also a necessary first step to the investigation of the soil and ice – the resulting map will guide the digging arm in its exploits.

Let the science begin!

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