Sunday evening, after an eight month cruise, the Phoenix spacecraft blasted into the thin Martian atmosphere. As it slowed down, it unfurled its parachute, on the way to the surface. That’s standard procedure for a Martian landing. But this time, for the first time ever, someone was watching. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, using its HIRISE camera, snapped a photo of the newest member of the Martian space fleet as it plummeted to the surface. The result is specatular.
This amazing photograph makes it appear that the Phoenix spacecraft is parachuting directly into this huge crater. But that is just an effect of perspective. In reality, Phoenix landed miles in front of that crater, out on the bleak Martian arctic plains.
Another photo taken by the MRO orbiter on Monday shows Phoenix safely on the ground. At the top, you can just make out the solar panels arrayed on either side of the spacecraft. You can see how the Phoenix spacecraft thrusters blew away some of the fine dust, and left a darkened area where Phoenix touched down. And below that, you can see where the blackened heatshield (which protected Phoenix as it entered the atmosphere) crashed into the surface. And farther down, you can also see the backshell and white parachute, which were discarded as the Phoenix lander made its final approach.
And here is a photo from Phoenix itself, looking out across the arctic plains from ground level.
It is going to be fun following this mission over the next 3 to 6 months, as it digs into the Martian soil in a search for arctic ice.
By Steve MacLaughlin, Sunday, May 25th:
This is not a blog about global warming. We no longer need to argue whether or not global warming is real, but what its effects are on North Texas. I believe that statistics over the last few years are proving that rapid climate change is happening right in front of our eyes. Or perhaps it is just an anomoly that will soon balance out. Either way, the numbers are staggering and shocking.
Aside from recently seeing the warmest year ever for the entire Earth, the entire United States and North Texas; all-time heat records for big cities from California to New York; the two strongest hurricanes ever on record just a couple of years ago; severe weather outbreaks never before seen and the first tornado ever in Brooklyn, New York City; Aside from all that, there are amazing temperatures happening right here in the Metroplex.
As the moisture content of the air increases for whatever reason, the overnight low temperature has a very hard time falling. This is the first place we see the effects of a changing climate. Over the last few years, we have continued to consistently break records for the warmest overnight low temperature on many days. This year, we have already broken 8 of these daily records. The three most recent records happened on Thursday, Friday and Saturday mornings.
On Friday and Saturday mornings our low temperature was 80 degrees. That is the first time EVER that a May night has not dropped below 80 in the Metroplex. The first time ever and it happened two days in a row. That makes those two mornings the earliest 80 degree mornings in a North Texas season on record and the warmest May nights ever. Before this weekend, the earliest 80 degree morning in a season was not until June 9th.
Our low of 80 degrees Friday morning (5-23-08) set a record.
Not only was it the warmest low temperature ever for May 23rd, but it was the earliest in the year we’ve had a low of 80 or above, AND the warmest May low ever.
The previous warmest May lows were 78 degrees, back in 1927, 1995 and 2003
A warm front moving north through the metroplex today will bring higher humidity/higher dew point air back to North Texas.
We’ll notice the big difference in the morning. The lows in the 60s will climb to lows in the 70s and our a/c will start to have to work 24 hours a day.
Heat Index numbers will climb as well, up toward the mid/upper 90s.
We’ll also see some of those June-like pop-up heat and humidity t-storms.
According to the record books, today’s normal high is 84, and the record, set in 2006 is 98.
Today we’re heading toward record territory, in fact, it looks like the DFW temperature will hit 98. Parts of North Texas will see 100 for the first time this year, especially NW and W of Fort Worth.
Tomorrow may be just a little cooler, but that should be enough to keep the high in the mid 90s.
By the way, today’s useless fact: The record high at DFW is cooler than New York City’s record high of 99.
We’re still officially more than a month away from the start of summer, but you’d never know it when you step outside.
This is the first time this year that the Five day forecast has highs of at least 90 degrees all week long!
It will take a few days to cause humidity levels to climb to Heat Index levels, but it will be noticably more humid by week’s end.
About eight months ago, NASA launched a new spacecraft named Phoenix. Since then, it has been cruising toward a rendezvous with Mars, and it’s now just a week away from landing. On Sunday, May 25th it is set to land, but this one will be different. Unlike the Mars Rovers which landed near the equator in 2003, the Phoenix spacecraft will explore the Martian arctic.
Another difference – The twin rovers have each covered more than 5 miles in their historic trek, which against all odds, still contines 5 years later. But the Phoenix lander will be stationary. And because of its landing place in the polar regions, it is only expected to survive for 3 to 5 months. But it will be historic in its own way. Phoenix has an extendable arm, with a trenching tool on the end. It will dig into the Martian permafrost, and then examine the soil and ices under a microscope.
Here’s a link with more information on the mission:
And here is a photo of an artist’s impression of what Phoenix will look like as it nears touchdown:
Ken Kalthoff did a story this afternoon on a Dallas link to the Martian spacecraft. A local professor built a spectroscope that will be used to analyze the spectrums, and determine the mineral content of the soils and ices that the trencher digs up. Here’s a link to Ken’s blog:
Mia the Golden Retriever loves to go places, either on foot, in the car or in the plane! She even has her own doggie headset!!!
She’s enjoyed the ride to Missouri, to Oklahoma and around Texas.
Just like a kid though, she has her limits, a long time in the plane, or turbulence makes her long for the ground!