Phoenix Mars mission is over, says Nasa

Nasa declared an end to the Phoenix mission, five months after the spacecraft became the first to land in Mars' arctic plains and taste water on another planet.

Mission engineers have not heard from the Phoenix lander in over a week. It fell silent shortly after a raging dust storm blocked sunlight from reaching its solar panels.

Although ground controllers will direct two satellites orbiting Mars to listen for Phoenix for several more weeks, the chances that it will respond are slim.

"We are actually ceasing operations, declaring an end of mission operations at this point," said project manager Barry Goldstein of Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which managed the £297 million mission.

Phoenix's demise was predicted. Unlike its hardy twin rover cousins Spirit and Opportunity, which are approaching their fifth year near the red planet's more hospitable equatorial region, Phoenix's days were numbered from the outset.

With sunlight waning and winter encroaching the arctic plains, scientists had said it was a matter of time before Phoenix would freeze to death.

Doug McCuistion, who heads the Mars exploration programme at Nasa headquarters, said people should view Phoenix's end as "an Irish wake rather than a funeral".

"It's certainly been a grand adventure," Mr McCuistion said.

Since its successful landing in May, Phoenix has sent back a bonanza of scientific discoveries. Its first breakthrough was the confirmation of ice at its landing site. Previous measurements from space suggested there was frozen water lurking inches below the surface, but Phoenix became the first robotic probe to touch and taste it by melting icy soil in one of its lab instruments.

The Phoenix mission was not trouble-free. Early on, Phoenix was dogged with technical difficulties involving its tiny test ovens designed to sniff for traces of organic, or carbon-based compounds. Several oven doors failed to open all the way; the lander also had trouble getting the dirt into the ovens and a short circuit threatened to render the instrument useless.

Originally pegged to last three months, Phoenix lasted a little over five months, flexing its long arm to dig trenches in the soil and delivering dirt and ice to its onboard instruments to analyse.

By the end of its prime mission, Phoenix determined the soil was slightly alkaline, detected falling snow and found minerals that suggest the ice may have melted at some point, although the soil is currently bone-dry.

Phoenix grew considerably weak in recent weeks as the Martian weather deteriorated. It braved plunging surface temperatures and a swirling dust storm that drained its power. It last communicated with Earth on November 2.

Scientists tried to look on the bright side.

"It's always a sad situation to not be able to communicate with it, but it lived beyond its warranty," said mission scientist Ray Arvidson of Washington University in St Louis.

Despite overcoming the oven troubles, Phoenix has yet to discover the elusive organic-based compounds essential for simple life forms to emerge. So whether the Phoenix landing site was habitable remains an open question.

The mission's chief scientist, Peter Smith of the University of Arizona in Tucson, said the team will focus on analysing the science results.

"I'm still holding out hope," Smith said.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
Actor, model and now record breaker: Jiff the Pomeranian
Video
News
REX/Eye Candy
science
News
i100
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
Arts and Entertainment
Amis: 'The racial situation in the US is as bad as it’s been since the Civil War'
booksAuthor says he might come back across Atlantic after all
Extras
indybest
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 200th birthday of Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
News
i100
News
In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Jim Carrey and Kate Winslett medically erase each other from their memories
scienceTechnique successfully used to ‘reverse’ bad memories in rodents could be used on trauma victims
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Pixie Lott will take part in Strictly Come Dancing 2014, the BBC has confirmed
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Developer (C#, ASP.NET Developer, SQL, MVC, WPF, Real-Time F

£40000 - £48000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Devel...

C# Swift Payment Developer (C#, ASP.NET, .NET, MVC, Authorize.N

£45000 - £60000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Swift...

Front-End Developer (JavaScript, HTML5, CSS3, C#, GUI)

£55000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front-End Deve...

Graduate C# Developer (.NET, WPF, SQL, Agile, C++) - London

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Graduate C# De...

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?