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September 8, 2008

White Nights

Posted: 12:57 PM ET

Check out this cool picture from the Phoenix Mars Lander of sunrise in the Martian Arctic.

Sunrise on Mars, August 25, 2008. Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Texas A&M University

Scientists picked a landing location on the Arctic plains because data from orbiting Odyssey spacecraft indicated lots of water ice in the area, mostly in the form of permafrost.  The researchers figured that would be a good place to look for organic chemicals in the dirt and ice. Up until now, Phoenix, which landed May 25,  has been going about its business in the "land of the midnight sun" located deep inside the Martian Arctic Circle.

But now there is a hint of autumn in the air.  On August 21, the 86th day after Phoenix landed, the sun set for the first time this season - rising again about half an hour later.  Now the days will get shorter and the nights longer until the sun finally sets for the season later this fall.

NASA has extended the Phoenix Lander's mission through September, and will almost certainly do so again.  Eventually, the cold and dark of winter will set in, ice sheets will advance, and Phoenix will die a frigid death - probably some time in November.

–Kate Tobin, Sr. Producer, CNN Science & Technology

Filed under: Mars • NASA • Space

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Tom M   September 8th, 2008 1:41 pm ET

"Ice sheets will advance" ?
That will be a first. On Mars.

S Callahan   September 8th, 2008 4:25 pm ET

lol You guys make me paranoid.....Strangely, I had already saved that pic from a NASA is beautiful isn't it? Wonder what it would like like in color.
My understanding is they are now evaluating their findings regarding the mositure/water issue. Any more info on that?

Glad to see some news on's been awhile.

Jack O   September 8th, 2008 5:00 pm ET

I echo Tom's comment. What do you mean "ice sheets will advance"? At the temperatures on Mars how would an ice sheet ever retreat-so that it could advance again in the cold dark winter? If we knew there were ice sheets advancing and retreating we could have saved ourselves the money of going there looking for water. Right?

Ron Bennett   September 8th, 2008 5:12 pm ET

Here is a color movie I made from the raw images at sol 102 of the sun skimming across the top of the North Polar Region horizon.

Dan M   September 8th, 2008 5:43 pm ET

How do we know that the Phoenix wil be killed by advancing ice? Wasn't the point of the mission to try and find some ice in the dirt?

Mark   September 8th, 2008 6:00 pm ET

In my opinion, this has been the WORST run mission in NASA history! Just go to the Phoenix website and read several weeks worth of comments. Over half are negative. This is not good PR for NASA. Much of what is going on, and most of the data being generated, is not being shared with either the public or the media. Where are the weekly press conferences? Why do rumors have to make the rounds, before the mission heads will tell us anything? IS it time for the media to file some FOIA requests, in order to get this info out? This craft wasn't sent to Mars (with taxpayer money) to just send back some poor quality, black and white, images of the sun rising or the robot arm "digging". Where's the data and what discoveries have been made?

Marvin Martian   September 8th, 2008 6:16 pm ET

Tom M,

Yes, "ice sheets will advance," even on Mars. As the temperature drops to near -200 F, as much as 1/4 of the roughly 8 millibar CO2 atmosphere freezes out (either as dry-ice snow or ground frost; still up for debate). The accumulated ice/snowfield will eventually extend from the permanent polar cap (which is mostly water ice) to south of where Phoenix is located. Once spring comes, the CO2 ice will sublimate back into the air, and the whole process repeats.

I hope Phoenix will still be "alive" to snap a few photos of this as-yet un-photographed process. Wouldn't it be amazing to see snowfall on another planet?

Chuck N   September 8th, 2008 7:21 pm ET

I am not a geologist, so perhaps the Phoenix data is nothing short of phenomenal, but from where I sit, I haven’t been able to identify the cost-benefit. Water evidence has been discovered and collaborated via orbiting satellites prior to Phoenix ever landing. In fact, the best evidence of water coming while Phoenix, sitting on the ground, was trying to get its instrumentation suite of tools to work. The public is looking for signs of life (or no life) from Phoenix. NASA needs to put out a list of science accomplishments derived from this mission, updated daily(weekly) because, as of now, the general public thinks the science part of this mission is a bust. Engineering was fantastic! Science, so-far, has been ho-hum.

roger   September 8th, 2008 7:36 pm ET

But there's no horizontal movement of ice, is there? That's what is always meant by ice sheets advancing, I thought. But yes, snow falling on Mars would be glorious to see, like the ethane rains of Titan and maybe the water rains of Jupiter?.

elmer fudd   September 8th, 2008 7:47 pm ET

we will fix the problem shortly after we get there, as we did here on earth with all our pollution ect, when a polar bear in our high artic jumps on the ice shelf and a piece the size of new york state breaks off and floats out to sea, we will have to thaw that ice in the north polar region to open up shipping lanes, w have to have a business plan.

Dirk Diggler   September 8th, 2008 11:21 pm ET

What's the point of this? Have they discovered anything relevant at all? Seriously! What a waste of money. BLAH!!!

Franko   September 9th, 2008 1:28 am ET

Wasted effort on finding what was already known from orbital sensors.

I am being profiled for Caterpillar Bulldozer ads. Caterpillar testing, profiling other than on Earth dirt. Try it next on Mars. One small dirt pile pushed, one planet flattened and paved over soon. Perfect ecology for the solar powered bulldozers.

Kevin   September 9th, 2008 8:52 am ET

I cant believe what im reading, that the pheonix will die in frigid death
wouldnt you thing that spending all this money on this mission that you would be able to come up with solution to this agenda, maybe moving the pheonix to where the most sunlight would be at and continue this mission, if all else fails , why wasnt this thought about to begin with?

El Kababa   September 9th, 2008 9:27 am ET

I was a reader of Sci Fi as a young man and I still read an occasional SciFi short story or novel. I was always a supporter of space exploration. It has been very disappointing to me that what we have found so far in space has been rocks and dirt. None of my favorite SciFi authors predicted that. Whenever a man went into space, he found something interesting.

I always thought that careful listening to extraterrestrial radiation would find something besides static.

I still support exploration of space, but I now think that nothing exciting will be found in my lifetime. Just more dirt and rocks.

Cloud9   September 9th, 2008 12:15 pm ET

Woohoo, now that we've spent billions of tax payer dollars again, how bout we put our resources into researching (and fixing) more pressing terrestrial problems. Like building the Doomsday machine.... errr I mean the large Hadron collider.

Dont get me started on that thing... Hmmm ever wonder what would happen if we play with energies we've never seen and recreate pre-historic (and I dont mean dinosaurs... I mean before existance) conditions on earth? Have Nasa fly those idiots to Mars and let them collide things there... far away from me.

If we're to lay blind trust, I'd just assume to say the Aztecs, Nostradamus, and countless other unknowns were correct about Dec 21, 2012. Google it, were doomed.

Bart   September 9th, 2008 12:18 pm ET

Huge WASTE of Taxpayers money on this one! ! Money being spent on
this while this planet is going belly up. Trying to find microbes on Mars while when in the end, we may never get to understand about possible life in other places if we destroy this planet through mindless negligence!

Dale   September 9th, 2008 2:12 pm ET

All the hype leading up to the landing of this fund sucker finding water and no news! I think i could help Nasa find water a lot cheaper, how about the Great Lakes! lol

Jim   September 9th, 2008 6:20 pm ET

Interestingly enough, he admits below that the collider will in fact create black holes. As far as I know, we can only infer the existence of black holes be the behavior of objects near them. I seriously doubt there will be a calamity, but who’s to say it’s impossible? The ‘God Particle’ might not appreciate being found.

Sleep sound tonight; I’ll wake you if we all vaporize into deep space…

Bud Clark   September 9th, 2008 8:11 pm ET

Scientific research is never a waste of money. Sadly, the Luddites and Know-Nothings are always with us. For me, that a photo of something as pure as that sunrise *exists* gives me hope for this benighted planet of ours. Our hope lies out among the stars; it is time for us to claim that destiny.

Bud Clark
San Diego CA USA

Jeff   September 10th, 2008 1:24 am ET

They mean 'ice' as in frozen/solidified carbon dioxide.

Franko   September 10th, 2008 2:09 am ET

"I now think that nothing exciting will be found in my lifetime."
Not very exiting, but possibly life trapped below the icy moons
Maybe giant Jellyfish on Jupiter, encripting their communication,
just radio noise, to fool Jellyfish Sushi Eaters.

Hook up your AM radio, tune to static only ? Wavelength of giant Jellyfish.

steve pagnozzi   September 10th, 2008 6:33 am ET

this mission just proves one thing that I believe most people are inclined to believe. That there needs to be a manned mission to Mars that either proves or disprove the ability of life that cannot exist, exist or at least the possibility that life existed at one time or another, PERIOD! So I say, let's get on with it.

mclovin   September 10th, 2008 8:32 pm ET

YOU GUYS R soooooo stupid why would u wantt o doo a experiment that could KILL us alll people would like to live .... i personally dont want tooo and my friends dont want too. Please dont kill us. Thankyou

Franko   September 11th, 2008 4:06 am ET

Sorry mclovin, on the speeding spaceship Earth. the wise ones have watched particles - "Cosmic rays can be over 10^21eV, which is a billion times more energetic than high energy particles created on earth in the most powerful particle accelerators" Even the SuperHyperGod Particles have to try really hard to be noticed. A single particle with the energy of a bullet, just atmosphere dissipated. Astronat helmet struck, not a good result.

Cosmic rays will be a problem for Humans on Mars.
Wonder outside a Martian cave, and death by a single proton ?

Matt   September 12th, 2008 12:35 pm ET

It's absolutely shocking to me that the sci tech blog is so filled with Luddites. Shame on most of you.

Leave the science to those who understand it

Franko   September 13th, 2008 1:28 am ET

"Leave the science to those who understand it"
Beauty is that no-one understands. More possible theories than people. To reduce the number, observe, predict, and experiment. Still infinite theory of possibilties. Do not FaithBlaspheme, (the stupidity caused by need), what you seek to elevate. Do another round of experiments. Nirvana, Heaven, Hell, Ultimate, Final Death, is only in the Hidden Faith Theory of the EcoSustainableZombie.

Jake   September 23rd, 2008 10:56 am ET

I was really surprised to see the usual pessemistic comments here. Is there any topic that the general public responds possitively to when anonymous?

We have machines on Mars that are digging, taking measurements, and snapping pictures. Enjoy.

Franko   September 23rd, 2008 12:24 pm ET

"Is there any topic that the general public responds possitively"

We are fear driven, as a microprocessor is interrupt scheduled.
Makes sense, survivor is one who pays attention to the primary importance

Fear resolved, time to enjoy leisure, a play to prepare for the next fright.

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