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.

Wow!

-cvj

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