Ashes to ashes, I guess: JPL announced on Monday that the Phoenix Mars lander bit the dust.
We always knew it would end like this. The Martian winter is setting in, and Phoenix won’t get enough sunlight to keep its batteries charged up at the north pole. NASA hasn’t heard from the lander since November 2, and after a week of radio silence, they called it quits.
But they’re saying it’s “an Irish wake, not a funeral”–Phoenix did some awesome stuff! It continued the Mars Exploration Rovers’ tradition of outlasting its expected 90-day lifespan (Phoenix lasted five months; the rovers are approaching their fifth birthday). It found ice just below the surface. It took more than 25,000 pictures. It found evidence that liquid water existed on Mars in the past millennium or so. It even saw snow!
The lander’s accomplishments are summarized in several other places: the JPL press release, the New York Times, and this adorable blog it’s been keeping on Gizmodo, also a good source for lively descriptions of what the lander’s been up to. (This post has a video of Martian clouds. Awesome.)
So this is certainly a time for celebration as much as mourning. But the image of the lonely lander, freezing to death at the edge of a planet, entombed in the very ice and snow it came to study is…well, chilling.