10:52 PM, Ok, all those who want DevilsTower to step in here and try interpting some of the surface geology raise your hand (I'm raising mine now!)
10:00 PM EDT Images are pouring in at the Phoenix Image Gallery!
Youtube video courtesy of NC Amy Dem
The last few minutes were a nail biter, but Mars Phoenix successfully landed, flawlessly as best we can tell, right on time at 7:53 PM Eastern Time. Congratulations to the men and women of JPL, NASA, and the University of Arizona! Over the last hour and half, Phoenix's solar panels were being unfurled, a mast will be raised with a camera on top, and after the probe itself is checked out with that electronic eye, we hope to have the first ever pictures of the Martian polar surface posted here tonight. Via afx114: "We'll know when Odyssey comes back into view after orbiting around Mars, in about 15 minutes."
I should probably note that the total cost of this five year mission is about half a billion dollars. That's a lot of money, and honest people can and will disagree with each other on our priorities. But just to put it in perspective, that's roughly what we spend in Iraq in two or three days. And bear in mind Moore's Law applies in space: just like earthbound electronic gizmos, our unmanned mission capabilities are increasing geometrically while the cost plummets, promising ever greater return for every future dollar invested. So, while we're waiting, on the verge of a change election coming on the heels of the most miserable, antiscience administration in my lifetime, it's appropriate to ask what a progressive space exploration policy might look like when that new political era dawns. That very topic will be addressed at a special, first of its kind panel at Netroots Nation 2008:
GlobeHoppin -- I'm very pleased to announce that for the first time, The Netroots Nation Convention will feature a panel on space policy, July 18th or 19th in Austin, Texas. The panel, entitled, "Progressive NASA & Space Policy Under a New Administration," is an opportunity to bring critical space policy issues to light within a potent progressive political constituency– the Netroots– that hasn’t historically paid much attention to space. It is also an opportunity for the Netroots to weigh in on what a new progressive space policy agenda could be under a progressive Administration in 2009.
Back to Mars: Some mysteries won't be resolved right away. Is there liquid water hiding just below the surface? Did a warmer Mars really have lakes and oceans at one time? Was there some kind of microbial life in those ancient seas, might there be hardy descendents still eeking out a living in the harsh, rusty soil today? These are some of the fascinating questions Phoenix will attempt to shed light on. But whatever the result, from henceforth the arctic surface of Mars will no longer be an abstract. In the next few minutes, it will be forever transformed into a place.
Update 10:15 EDT PM: Kos and ct are probably gonna kill me, but I hope to drop a large mosaic below the fold in a few minutes.
No mosaic yet, look like they're working on one though. Here's some more, any photoshop exprts out there wanna try and colorize these?
Very large mosaic here.
Update [2008-5-25 23:0:25 by Devilstower]: On a speculative note, looking at the structures visible in the images so far, it appears that what we're seeing is polygonal frost heaving. On Earth these polygons can be from a few inches to several feet across. When they form above permafrost, they are sometimes associated with a pyramidal mound called a pingo. It will be interesting to see if any such structure is visible once the camera reveals more of the lander's surroundings.
Polygonal frost heaving on Earth
Update [2008-5-25 11:09 EDT by DarkSyde]: So DT, understanding this is speculation, what might that imply about the subsurface? A pingo implies the ice might run kinda deep, or be fed by an underground water source, or the structures would be dynamic, building and collpasing over geologically short term time scales on the order of millennia?
Update [2008-5-25 23:21:31 by Devilstower]:To have polygonal frost heaving at all, there are several requirements. There has to be a freeze/thaw cycle, there has to be soil in the right size range, and that soil has to be . If this is polygonal frost heaving, it has huge implications about water at the Martian poles. A real pingo forms only above a layer of permafrost, so if we catch a glimpse of that raised mound nearby, it'll mean there's significant subsurface water. Sadly, these features may not be reflective of the current conditions at the Martian pole. There are "fossil" pingos in areas now that are too warm for them to form, left over from the last ice age. Frost heaving on Mars could be left over from a warmer, wetter past. However, I have my fingers crossed that these are recent structures.