Photo Finish

Marvellous. It is good to get the chance to use the word in its most basic sense, and fully mean it. You know how there’s a lot of reliance on artist’s impressions to depict aspects of space missions (such as landing) that we can’t get photos of because, well, there’s nothing else there to take the photo (unlike the movies and TV)? Well look at this:

Phoenix lander in the act of landing, using its parachute to slow down during the \"seven minutes of terror\". Photo by High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA\'s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

It may not look like much to some, but I’m really impressed with this. It is a first. It is the Phoenix lander during the act of landing during the “Seven Minutes of Terror” yesterday! NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter was in the right position to take a photo with the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera! Form the site:

From a distance of about 310 kilometers (193 miles) above the surface of the Red Planet, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter pointed its HiRISE obliquely toward Phoenix shortly after it opened its parachute while descending through the Martian atmosphere. The image reveals an apparent 10-meter-wide (30-foot-wide) parachute fully inflated. The bright pixels below the parachute show a dangling Phoenix. The image faintly detects the chords attaching the backshell and parachute. The surroundings look dark, but corresponds to the fully illuminated Martian surface, which is much darker than the parachute and backshell.

Phoenix released its parachute at an altitude of about 12.6 kilometers (7.8 miles) and a velocity of 1.7 times the speed of sound.

The HiRISE, acquired this image on May 25, 2008, at 4:36 p.m. Pacific Time (7:36 p.m. Eastern Time). It is a highly oblique view of the Martian surface, 26 degrees above the horizon, or 64 degrees from the normal straight-down imaging of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The image has a scale of 0.76 meters per pixel.

Since the first few (such as the one I posted here), there are now several more photos to be seen at the Phoenix site here.



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6 Responses to Photo Finish

  1. Neil says:

    Wow is the word. Sometimes, I just love the world in which we live. To see something land on another world in near-real time just gets more incredible the more you think about it.

    I was reminiscing at my blog about following Mars Pathfinder live on the web, back in 1997, hitting “reload” on my Mosaic browser every few minutes to see if the first picture had come down. Yesterday I sat at home watching Phoenix live via streaming video over fast broadband. So much progress in 10 short years.

  2. could you says:

    I love your blog.>> and,
    Could you talk a little more about string theory
    and people’s research or news?
    Thank you very much~

  3. Clifford says:


    Thanks. I blog about strings as mood, interest, and time dictate, and no sooner. This is not a string theory blog. I do have some things I’d like to chat about pertaining to my own research, and plan to do a post or two now that the busy semester is over, but I am not sure when it’ll be yet.

    Feel free to look through the archives for several discussions of string theory matters (there are 53 posts in the “string theory” category at time of writing).

    So sorry to disappoint, but this isn’t a news site.



  4. Kevin says:

    Hey guys, you may want to check out what was in the background of that picture – amazing.

  5. Clifford says:

    Hi Kevin,

    Yes, I saw that yesterday… I was saving it for a post for tomorrow. Thanks for commenting and pointing it out though, since I (and readers) could well have missed it!


  6. wowow says:

    This is really so cool, thank you for pointing it out. Something remarkable in watching that parachute unfold, an act that we really should never have been able to see for ourselves in the past. It give me chills in my stomach. 🙂 I watched the whole Phoenix 7 minutes of terror on NASA TV online and hearing the happy shouts of all the NASA people at the end was incredible.