Every since undergrad geology, I’ve loved the artistry of geomorphic maps. They just strike me as so art deco in a geeky kind of way.
Above is Mars, and the yellow ellipse is the target for the Phoenix lander (illustrated, left) due to arrive on Mars on the 25th of May. Emily at the Planetary Society explains the navigation and engineering behind the landing site. Any guesses as to why it’s a cigar-shaped target and not a bull’s eye?
Here’s a trivia point … see the latitude and longitude on the map above? If the Martians were sending their Phoenix to Earth at the same coordinates, the target would be just west of Canada’s Great Bear Lake, near the border of Yukon and Northwest Territories.
What about the Mars Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity? By Earth coordinates, Spirit would be a bit more than 100 miles off the NW coast of Fiji in the Pacific Ocean. Opportunity would be about 200 miles off the coast of Africa in the Atlantic Ocean, south of Ghana.
One challenge in Marts exploration involves satisfying the energy requirements to run these explorers. The rovers we targeted for the Martian equator to maximize their ability to draw solar energy to power their systems. Even so, during the Martian winters, Spirit and Opportunity have struggled to stay in operation. Phoenix lander will be right on the edge of what passes for the Arctic Circle. It will get nearly 24 hours of sunlight, but at a more oblique angle than the rovers’ solar panels.
Ten years ago, NASA lost its first polar lander as it aimed for the South Pole of Mars. Hopefully fortune will be with Phoenix on its mission.
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