Since landing on Mars on Sunday, the Phoenix lander has delighted scientists with the first-ever peek of the planet’s northern arctic region. A minor glitch, that was soon fixed ,delayed the second day of operations from Mars’ surface, but the landing and the initial findings sent back home have excited NASA scientists.

The scientists’ elation is understandable, because just five of 11 attempted landings on Mars have succeeded.

The terrain where Phoenix settled is relatively flat with polygon-shaped patterns in the ground likely caused by the expansion and contraction of underground ice.

It’s a spectacular view, indeed. These are images no human has ever seen before.

Launched last August, the spacecraft logged more than 422 million miles on its interplanetary journey before arriving “in good health,” according to NASA. In the past few years, images from twin Mars rovers have helped to feed earthlings’ long-held fascination with the “red planet,” and the prospect of additional knowledge increases with the Phoenix mission.

The Phoenix is equipped with instruments and miniature laboratories designed to gather and analyze samples of terrain and gases. The findings of this and other missions will help answer a question that for ages has been posed both in science and literature. Does life of any sort exist in outer space?

Apparently, the existence of those fabled little green Martians has been ruled out. But if the basic elements needed to support life on our planet can be detected elsewhere, the potential answer will be closed than ever before.

Brownwood Bulletin