Monday, May 26, 2008
A First Glimpse of Polar Mars
Here’s one of the first images of the vast northern polar region of Mars, taken shortly after the landing Saturday of NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander. The craft touched down on Mars at 4:53 p.m. Saturday in a spectacular, precision landing.
The approximate-color image shows a flat landscape with polygonal cracking, a pattern common to Martian high latitudes and seen frequently on Earth’s permafrost terrains. Scientists believe seasonal freezing and thawing of surface ice creates the pattern.
The Phoenix spacecraft is equipped with instruments capable of determining if life has existed on Mars, of learning more about the Martian climate and geology ~ all paving the way for human exploration of the planet. Scientists believe enormous supplies of water may exist beneath the polar surface of Mars, something they hope the Phoenix mission can verify.
The image below is an artist’s conception of Saturday’s landing of the Phoenix, with pulsed rocket engines controlling the final moments of descent. Click here for more NASA photos of the Phoenix mission.