It seems macabre to be thinking about the end of Phoenix‘s mission when it’s only just landed, but the odds are that the lander will fail to survive the Martian winter. In the Martian Arctic circle, Phoenix will not see the sun set until it’s September here on Earth, but the nights will get longer and longer until the lander eventually endures a hundred or so sols (Martian days) of consecutive darkness. It’s not expected to come out of the other end of this ordeal, but if it does it’s been programmed with a ‘Lazarus’ mode, calling home to Earth to let us know it’s back from the dead.
I was reminded of this when reviewing the UK newspaper coverage of the landing today. Top marks go to the Independent which splashed images from Phoenix across its front page and included a supportive leading article, but I was amused by a slip in the coverage by the Mail, the only other paper to include the news of Phoenix‘s safe landing on the cover.
They include a quote from Carl Sagan on the Planetary Society’s program to send a DVD with names to the surface. The Scotsman goes further, including Sagan referring to the landing taking place in 2008. As Sagan sadly died in 1996, this seems a bit of a stretch unless the Lazarus mode can bring more than Phoenix back from the dead.
Someone whose political prospects probably need resurrecting, the prime minister Gordon Brown, is probably already sick of Phoenix. The cartoonist in every paper I opened had had the same idea, depicting Phoenix discovering no trace of life in Brown’s prospects; here’s the Times’ variation on the theme.