13 November 2008

Silent sentinel

Phoenix has sent its last signal.  Martian winter is coming to the red planet's Arctic plains and the remarkable stream of images we've enjoyed for the last few months will cease.  NASA says they are happy with the results, that Phoenix exceeded expectations.  I suppose when you blast a 350-kg projectile into cold, dark space and it travels a few hundred million miles for 8 months and you (1) hit the target and (2) land safely and (3) broadcast home you've accomplished one hell of a lot!  According to the LPL FAQ for the Phoenix mission, they thought they'd get only 90 sols (Martian days, about 92 earth days) worth of work done.  Instead they managed 149.

Today is sol 167 on Mars.  The weather report from sol 151 says there was a high of -46 C and a low of -89 C.  (Fahrenheit and Celsius sales actually converge at -40 degrees, that is, -40 F is the same as -40 C.)  That's cold.

Every journey we make to these far-flung, frozen landscapes ought to remind us of the uniqueness of Planet Earth.  Nowhere within billions and billions of miles is there anyplace so habitable, so hospitable to life as we know it.  No matter what we learn from Phoenix, and they'll be sorting through the stuff for months to come, we have to learn that our current home is all we've got.  Let's do right by it.

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