The Descent of the Phoenix

I’m probably the last person on earth to blog about this picture, but it is amazing. Like, wow.

This sweeping image was taken at the Red Planet by NASA’s Mars Reconaissance Orbiter. In the black and white colours of this photo, we see a large 10 kilometer wide crater – a memory of an impact by a meteor that took place perhaps a very long time ago. Even as the huge scale of the impact is easily apparent, there is an even more amazing thing in this picture…the Phoenix lander descending, it’s parachutes unfurled to slow down the amazing speed with which it descends, and battling the immense pressure with the thin Martian atmosphere. So we have, in the vast unkown of the Red Planet, a piece of machinery designed by intelligent life to gather vast sums of knowledge about it, photographed by another piece of machinery from the same intelligence, orbiting the planet three hundred kilometers away.

From this two-dimensional photo , it looks as though the spacecraft is falling straight towards the crater itself…but actually it is falling to a place ten kilometers in front of it. This fact really makes us grasp how high the spacecraft, and how huge the crater in the background is. Once the spacecraft lands, it will commence on a search for liquid water, headed by optimistic humans who wonder whether conditions are suitable for life only on Earth , trying to answer the age-old question…”Are we alone?”