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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Phoenix follows Martian weather

    As the UA-led ‘Phoenix’ Mars mission prepares to enter its fourth month, the focus of the mission, just like the seasons on Mars, has begun to shift.

    Originally scheduled to end on Aug. 25, the mission has been extended until Sept. 30, and according to mission officials, there is a very high likelihood that the termination date will be pushed back even further.

    As long as the Lander stays in good working condition and the scientists are able to get things accomplished, the mission will continue to operate, said Pat Woida, the mission’s senior engineer.

    “”(The extension) is based on the health of the spacecraft and what type of work we can do,”” he said.

    Since the primary objective ended on Aug. 25, Woida said that the mission has switched gears and is now focusing more on changes in the Martian atmosphere.

    “”During the summer, we had this calm climate; there wasn’t a lot of change,”” Woida said. “”That was good, because we were focused on geology. Now the atmosphere is changing, fall is coming, we’re getting clouds rolling in like people have never seen before on Mars.””

    Woida said that the team is now seeing varieties of weather that they had not been previously observed.

    “”Dust devils are showing up… we caught a beautiful pair that were twisting around each other and split at the end – it was completely opportunistic,”” Woida said. “”We had been looking during the prime mission, but the weather was so calm, they didn’t occur.””

    The expiration of the prime mission and the abundance of changes on Mars have been accompanied by changes in the Mars Science and Operations Facility, Woida said.

    “”This is the extended mission… with that, we are also back on earth time, instead of living on Mars time, the team is now… on a roughly eight-to-five kind of job right now. We’re still seven days a week, but that will change soon,”” Woida said. “”The other thing is we have got distributed operations – the people from all over the world who joined us (in Tucson) are now back at their home institutions in New York, California or Colorado.””

    Changes in the solar patterns on Mars have also begun to limit the amount of time that the Mars Lander can be operational during the day, Woida said.

    “”The sun now, instead of being up all the time, is setting and rising. The temperatures are colder than we have ever had before,”” Woida said. “”(The lander is) solar-powered and with the sun setting now and not being up all of the time, we have a little power restraint but that is to be expected.””

    Woida said that, so far, the mission has been a vast success and througProxy-Connection: keep-alive
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    this project scientists have been able to develop a much greater understanding of the Red Planet.

    “”Pretty much every place we look, even when we’re trying to dig up dry samples, we get water in the samples,”” Woida said. “”Every place we have brushed away the surface, we’re scraping down and finding ice; there is a lot more (water) than we had anticipated.””

    This abundance of Martian water could lead to further exploration, and Woida said that it is very possible Mars could represent a plausible option for future colonization by the human race.

    “”(We’re) showing Mars to be more Earth-like than alien,”” Woida said. “”Were talking about habitability in this mission; was it habitable in the past; is it habitable now? I think what we’re seeing now, for certain though, is that it will be habitable in the future and that will be by us.””Asked when we could look for a human walking on the surface of Mars, Woida said, “”That’s politics, not science.””

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