Phoenix Lander Survives Martian Dust Storm

NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander weathered its first dust storm on the red planet this past weekend, though the dust did lower the lander’s solar power and put the brakes on some of its planned activities.
Phoenix project manager Barry Goldstein of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory told reporters about the weekend’s events during a lecture discussing the mission at the Popular Mechanics Breakthrough Conference in here on Wednesday.
The nearly 23,000 square-mile (37,000 square-km) storm moved west to east around the northern arctic plains of Mars, and weakened considerably by the time it reached the lander on Saturday, Oct. 11. NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter circling the planet took a snapshot of the storm as it blew over Phoenix.
At the height of the storm, all the dust it had kicked up increased the opacity of the atmosphere over the spacecraft, letting less sunlight through to its solar arrays, the lander’s sole source of power.
Phoenix’s power levels “really dropped drastically,” Goldstein told
The hit to the lander’s already diminishing power supplies limited what the spacecraft could do over the weekend.