It’s official – the historic Phoenix mission to the north pole of Mars is over. There has been no word from Phoenix since around Nov 2nd, and with temperatures dropping, darkness descending and Phoenix showing no signs of “phoning home”, NASA has declared the mission complete, and has said they don’t expect to hear from the lander again; there seems very little chance that the “lazarus” command signal could wake the lander up again in spring, because by then the terrible cold will have caused serious damage to its systems and circuitry, literally cracking and shattering its circuit boards and computer hardware, so we have heard our last from Phoenix. No more pictures of dust devils, frost or sunrises; no more animations of the telltale thrupping dementedly from side to side, or of clouds scudding across the sky; no more close-ups of ice beneath the lander’s belly… that’s all folks. Not only has the Fat Lady sung, she’s left the stage, the lights have been turned off and the doors have been locked.
But Phoenix will live on, in her data. Now the scientists will really start to analyse all the science the lander returned during her 5 months on Mars. There will be more announcements made, more press conferences held, more discoveries to be announced. Perhaps there’s proof hiding in the data somewhere that Phoenix did actually find organics in the martian soil… or there’s evidence that the landing site was indeed once habitable. We’ll have to wait and see – and that’s what science, especially planetary science, is all about: waiting and seeing.
This isn’t my last post on Phoenix, not by a long way. But it seems appropriate to end today with the image I’ve put at the top of this post. You’ll see a line of what looks like binary code at the bottom there… this is the last “message” sent back by Phoenix via its incredibly popular Twitter site. What does it say? Well, if you put it into a binary translation website you get a single word:
Aye. Phoenix certainly was that.
So, Farewell Phoenix. We’ll miss you, but we won’t forget you! 🙂