Posted by: Staff | 11.30.2008

The Universe Around Us (The Phoenix Mars Lander)

CONNOR MADIGAN ’11

mars

Americans have often been the pioneers in regards to space, including bad science-fiction movies. The bewildered astronauts crash-land on Mars and must defend themselves against the hostile Martians, which are more like beasts than people. Or the inhabitants of the red planet put the Earthlings to shame with their civilization that discovered space travel before humans came out of the oceans. It is accepted that no such life could survive in Mars’s unforgiving environment. However the existence of the keystone of life, water, has been disputed since 1877, when Giovanni Schiaparelli saw lines on the surface of the planet he believed were “Canalis,” canals made by intelligent life. It seems after all those years water has been found on Mars.

After two months on the surface of Mars, the NASA’s Phoenix Lander has made a splendid discovery. The Phoenix spent its time taking pictures, recording weather data, and taking soil samples. Its main mission was to see if life is possible in the planet’s arctic circle. Considering that the average temperature on Mars is anywhere between -198 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, with winds blowing at approximately 124mph on any given day, this seemed unlikely. However, it was during a collection of soil that something which looked and behaved like ice was found. Even though this solar-powered machine was nearly 33,864,729 miles from earth, it would’ve been able to test the frozen substance and find out what it was… if everything went according to plan. Unfortunately, the scooping device on the Phoenix refused to let go of what it thought was ice and put it in the TEGA (an instrument that heats substances and determines what gases are released).

“No matter how hard we tried, we couldn’t shake [the ice] free of the scoop and deliver it to the TEGA,” says project manager Barry Goldstein. The men and women at NASA were foiled by a simple fact; ice sticks to metal. After devoting precious brain cells to remedying the issue the scientists had a breakthrough; the new approach was to shake the TEGA really, really hard. Some of the smartest people in the United States were now thinking at the same level as a dog with a chew toy. Someone, either the dog or astrophysicist, had the right idea and they were able to test the sample. Nerds around the world held their breath. The substance was made of H2O. This, however, was not the exciting discovery; it was the minerals in the ice that interested scientists. These minerals may give evidence to the existence of life on the red planet.

That is the Phoenix Lander’s new objective. It will dig down to find ice that has been frozen for hundreds of thousands of years in the hopes of finding microscopic life frozen there.

Mars is the only planet in our solar system besides Earth that is capable of sustaining life. To sustain life is a delicate endeavor. If organisms could live there once, why not now? How did it all come to an end? With our own existence in such a tenuous position, will we realize that Earth is unique, and necessary of protection? Whatever future discoveries tell us on the small scale, on the large one it will show us that maybe we are not alone in an empty universe after all.

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Responses

  1. “Mars is the only planet in our solar system besides Earth that is capable of sustaining life.”

    Well said.

  2. I beg to differ.

  3. I’m with Julie.

  4. Woof woof!

  5. there is evidence life is a possiblility on Eceladus
    Myself, I think we are alone in the solar system but not alone in the universe.


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