Mars

It’s been over a decade since NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander touched down on the Red Planet for the first time. A new image taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, a telescope orbiting the planet, revealed remnants of the robotic spacecraft are being hidden away in plain site by Mars’ ever-changing surface.

The probe landed on the far north of Mars back in May 2008 for a mission to find signs of microbial life and research the history of water on the planet. When it came flying down from space the craft deployed a parachute and kicked up some dust with its rocket thrusters. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter was able to take a snapshot of the landing site two months after the landing, which showed the probe’s hardware and the scorched Martian ground.

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Now what remains of Phoenix is almost completely covered in dust.

This animation blinks between two images of NASA's Mars Phoenix Lander hardware around the mission's 2008 landing site on far-northern Mars. By late 2017, dust obscures much of what was visible two months after the landing. The lander is near the top; the back shell and parachute near the bottom.
This animation blinks between two images of NASA's Mars Phoenix Lander hardware around the mission's 2008 landing site on far-northern Mars. By late 2017, dust obscures much of what was visible two months after the landing. The lander is near the top; the back shell and parachute near the bottom.

Astronomers have made a GIF blinking between the 2008 image and a new image captured on December 2017. The patches of land that were darkened by the lander have been coated in Martian soot and only the tops of the two parts at the top and bottom of the image are still visible.

This was most likely caused by Mars’s massive dust storms, which can cover “continent-sized areas and last weeks at a time.” But don’t worry about Phoenix too much, its exploring days have come to an end.

The solar-powered probe’s exploration mission only lasted five months. Reduced levels of sunlight caused it to eventually power off for good. The last contact it made with Earth was in November 2008.

Phoenix, once a technological marvel, has now become just another rock on the Martian surface, a solemn ending for such a trailblazing machine.