There’s a NASA press teleconference going on right now, and the team behind the Phoenix lander has just announced that Phoenix hasn’t been heard of since last Wednesday, and they have declared “End of Mission Operations”, meaning Phoenix has gone to sleep and isn’t expected to wake up again. Sad news, but it was always going to come…
I’ve just noticed that this blog has now had over 9,000 visits… that’s crazy, really! A huge THANK YOU to you, whether you’re someone who stops by regularly, or someone who has only been here a couple of times. Hope you enjoy the pictures!
Although obviously I hope it isn’t the case, this might well end up being my “epitaph” or tribute to Phoenix, what with her energy problems and the increasingly-hostile conditions at her landing site. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that she can survive to at least send back a few more sols’ worth of pictures before she falls silent forever…
PREPARING TO SLEEP
My once-fierce flames are failing now:
Fading as the fleeing Sun fades,
And I can barely feel
Their warmth as I stand here,
On Barsoom’s epic Polar Plain,
Staring over a sea of ancient stones,
My very bones chilled by Mars’ aching cold
as my butterfly-brief life ebbs away…
Once I stood proud beneath this great
Dome of a sky. Now my whole body shakes
In fear, for the hungry wolves of winter
Are drawing near. I hear their howling
on the icy wind, see their frost-flecked eyes
staring at me from the cruel dark,
proof that Death is stalking me now,
creeping forwards on all fours, edging a little closer
every time I blink… I don’t think
I can stay awake much longer…
Dying in this fading, hoar-frost half light
I cannot help but wonder through the night
Have I made you proud of me? Have I achieved
All you hoped and dreamed I would? Whenever I could
I reached out with my claw and scraped it red and raw
Against the ice I came to find. But my craw
Remains as dry tosol as it was when I arrived,
My hungry TEGA stomachs grumble still,
Filled not with precious proof that Mars was once
A home for life but clogged with cloying dirt
That rattles inside me mockingly
As the polar wind blows through my body
Like a ghost – a reminder I am already in my grave…
And now, as the sullen sun sets again I start
To hear and see strange things: is that the yapping
And yipping of dogs or just the cracking
Of my slowly splintering wings?
On the far horizon there- a ragged line of men
In frozen-fur hoods and heavy, dragging boots?
I see their birds nest beards clotted with frost
As they heave heir creaking sleds, crump-crumping through
The snow – no… no… they are just dust devils
Whirling past, taking one last pitying look
At the alien that fell out of their sky all those months
Ago, uninvited, and now lies close to death…
And I’m sure there is no ghostly figure
Standing by my side, and their frostbitten hand
– Cocooned inside a seal-fur glove –
Is not really resting on my shoulder, but as I shiver
Uncontrollably I can half believe I hear
The voice of Shackleton – no stranger
To ice and cold – speaking soft into my ear…
“I believe it is in our nature to explore, to reach out
into the unknown. The only true failure… would be not to explore at all.”
… and with those words I lay my heavy head
down upon the frosty ground, to the sound
of my own heartbeat slowing down,
and close my tired eyes one final time.
The last thing I see: a spark of pure blue light
Shining in the west, a blessed sight,
Burning with the gentle glow of six billion curious souls.
Some will remember me, I hope, and should your
restless eyes gaze at the starry sky and see Ares
Glinting ‘bove the trees then think of me,
And cast your mind back to these golden
Glorious Days, when a Phoenix flew to Mars..!
© Stuart Atkinson 2008
I’m not sure how many more – if any – pictures I’ll be posting here, because it seems that Phoenix really is living on borrowed time now. She’s in a pretty bad way, in fact. If you take a look at my post on my general blog, Cumbrian Sky (link over there on the right) you’ll see that no sooner had her controllers started switching off un-needed systems and pieces of hardware (like the robot arm and the TEGA ovens) to conserve energy than the probe put itself into Safe mode, so it seems as if power levels are pretty low now, and many people are wondering if Phoenix might actually have taken its last pictures of the martian arctic.
Hopefully there’s a little more to come from Phoenix, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she’s sent back her last pictures from Barsoom. All we can do now is wait and see what happens.
But Phoenix’s flames are definitely fading…
Here are two colourisatons, showing exactly the same section of Phoenix’s landing site but at very different times of the sol (that’s day in Old Terran! 😉 ) First, a Sol 151 image, taken at around 05.15 local time…
You can see some hints of blueish-tinged frost on the ground – but not a lot, which is a bit of a surprise; back in August it seemed like the ground around Phoenix would soon be thick and fat with frost, but that just hasn’t happened… It’s bound to happen soon tho, as Phoenix’s nights are drawing in, and the sky seems very cloudy now… some of that water vapour scudding overhead has to start condensing out soon…?
And now, an image taken around 9 hours earlier, at around 20.40 on Sol 150…
Warning, that image has been tweaked and stretched and enhanced to within an inch of its life, until it almost begged for mercy, so I’m not claiming at all – and I NEVER do that here anyway – that it’s a “real” or “natural” colour pic, it’s an unashamedly arty pic, made just because I wanted to and could, and wanted to make a pretty pic, not a scientifically accurate one… but it does show that by that time of the sol the lighting was very soft, and shadows almost non-existent…
As usual, please click on the images to bring up full size versions. Well worth the effort.
Two very different views of the same area of rocks and dust, showing just what a beautiful, beautiful world Mars is… 🙂