Best. Image. Ever.

By Phil Plait | May 26, 2008 1:10 pm

Emily has what is simply The Coolest Picture Ever. It is that simple.

That is exactly what you think it is: Phoenix descending to the Martian surface underneath its parachute. This incredible shot was taken by the HiRISE camera on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. You can easily see the ‘chute, the lander (still in its shell) and even the tether lines!

Think on this, and think on it carefully: you are seeing a manmade object falling gracefully and with intent to the surface of an alien world, as seen by another manmade object already circling that world, both of them acting robotically, and both of them hundreds of million of kilometers away.

Never, ever forget: we did this. This is what we can do.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: NASA, Pretty pictures, Science

Comments (184)

Links to this Post

  1. NewMexiKen: Best. Image. Ever. | May 26, 2008
  2. Virtual Dave » Engineering Photo Of The Year | May 26, 2008
  3. Gavin's Blog · Phoenix arrives, MRO snaps a photo | May 26, 2008
  4. Phoenix Seen From Orbit « In Other Words | May 26, 2008
  5. dangerous blog » Blog Archive » The Best Image Ever? | May 26, 2008
  6. Otro pequeño paso de la humanidad | May 27, 2008
  7. DailyDigital » Blog Archive » This must be fake… but it isn’t! | May 27, 2008
  8. links for 2008-05-27 | hxf148 | May 27, 2008
  9. :: :: » Most amazing photo ever. | May 27, 2008
  10. Jason’s Blog » Blog Archive » MRO captures pic of Phoenix Lander DURING LANDING! | May 27, 2008
  11. Mr. Walker’s Blog » Phoenix has landed! | May 27, 2008
  12. Bookmarks for May 19th through May 27th | | May 27, 2008
  13. Kevin Hamilton | May 27, 2008
  14. …Humans are amazing? at Didnt You Hear… | May 27, 2008
  15. n-rd » Blog Archive » Awesome Phoenix lander image | May 27, 2008
  16. hectorhector » I can see my planet from here! | May 27, 2008
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  21. Phoenix Mars Lander | Un simple blog | May 28, 2008
  22. CasdraBlog » Blog Archive » links for 2008-05-28 | May 28, 2008
  23. The Demilitarized Zone » Blog Archive » Offline for a bit; home ownership; plus a reminder | May 28, 2008
  24. May 28, 2008 | Bloggle | May 28, 2008
  25. See Our Robots Invade Other Planets « Live Granades | May 28, 2008
  26. A tired Thursday « Ned Raggett Ponders It All | May 29, 2008
  27. Paralipsis » Blog Archive » This is what we can do | May 29, 2008
  28. Weekly link roundup | November 1973 | May 30, 2008
  29. Science « Andrew Rihn’s Poetry Page | May 30, 2008
  30. Phoenix on Mars: Extended Mission - Page 10 - Bad Astronomy and Universe Today Forum | November 11, 2008
  31. Private Moon Rover Aims for Apollo 11 Landing Site - Bad Astronomy and Universe Today Forum | April 29, 2009
  32. Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter - Page 17 - Bad Astronomy and Universe Today Forum | August 12, 2009
  33. Mars orbiter catches pic of Curiosity on its way down! | Bad Astronomy | BizNax | August 6, 2012
  1. Grizzly

    I was going to email you and then figured you’d have a thousand by now.

    I sat here at my terminal repeating “Wow” like a mantra until someone took notice. Some shrugged, some “got it”. This is an absolutely amazing shot. If it doesn’t get into your top 10 for the year I don’t know what will.


  2. Gary Mcleod

    Can I be the first to say; “WOW!”

  3. Grizzly

    Second Gary… 😉

    And the Phoenix site has a “cleaned up” version.

  4. Hi Phil, I was just about to put that very picture on my blog and I was thinking I bet the BA will post it and say….”this is just so COOOOOOLLLL!”

    And…it IS!

  5. I must continue the COOL sentiment!

  6. Words fail me. But happily!

  7. So it was catched!!! 😀

    Amazing! Is there a context view somewhere? Where we can see a huge black image with this little tiny white dot somewhere on it to spot, is it possible?

  8. Paul

    I think everyone involved should give themselves a big “high five.”

    Cool is a major frakking understatement!

  9. Overstroming

    Jeebus, that is literally awesome! A stunning picture, thanks, BA.

  10. Yorin

    Take a look at

    I didn’t see this image anywhere else yet, and the full size version doesn’t seem to work. But it seems that the digging area looks a whole lot more interesting than what we could see yesterday. I’m not an expert, but to me it seems like a few meters away there is a small rock that looks as if it fell onto the ground and was shattered into a hundred pieces.

  11. Jonathan

    To paraphrase Carl Sagan

    “This is what hydrogen atoms do given 13.7 billion years of cosmic evolution.”

  12. thane
  13. Giffy

    Is it wrong that I got a little teared up looking at this.

  14. bigjohn756

    I agree…WOW!! My question is; is the ‘chute fully opened? It does not appear to me to be fully open at the time of this pic. I can hardly wait to see the enhanced versions of it and any other similar ones.

  15. mark

    My question is; is the ‘chute fully opened? It does not appear to me to be fully open at the time of this pic.

    Due to the speed and density (lack thereof) of the atmosphere, I imagine the ‘chute may be designed differently from what we’re used to. Anyway … it worked! :)

  16. An image with better context is in the works, and to quote Zap Brannigan, “It will blow your mind.”

  17. JC in Seattle

    I watched NASA’s live Internet feed of the landing (you have got to love the transparency of this government organization) and I found it be as gripping, and nail biting as any sports event or Hollywood creation. So much is it stake for making this project work, and it has proven thus far to be a grand success. Contgrats to all the men and women involved with the Phoenix project.

    It’s funny, I almost felt that a call would come in from the commander and chief expressing such congratulating thoughts… but then I remembered the folks involved in the current administration. It is a shame that such great human achievements can go unrecognized by our political system.

  18. CanadianAstronomy

    No way. No way. No way! That’s all I kept saying to myself as I realized what that photo was.


    I’m speechless.

  19. Dennis

    Amazing!!!, and allready they are talking about taking images of the lander, heatshield and parachute. It’s like watching a great movie.

  20. SarahE

    Absolutely brilliant…

  21. That picture is as moving as “The Blue Marble”-picture of Earth taken from Apollo 17.

    Science did this! Kudos to the scientists and engineers who made this picture possible.

    I am in awe.

  22. Dutch Delight

    I’m not sure when they will be released, but the Mars Express made some snapshots during descent as well, so there’s more of these pics to come!

  23. Edward

    Grandioso, superba, etal.

    This photo is breathtaking.

  24. Daniel Molitor

    My jaw dropped when I first saw this on the Phoenix website. Not since I sat in front of the TV at 4 in the morning to watch Voyager’s pictures of Io come in have I been this floored by an image. Absolutely freaking fabulous.

    And your sentiment is equally important. We can DO this kind of stuff if we want to.

  25. owlbear1

    The parachute opened ~6 seconds later than predicted.

    Was this from a series of photographs? (I can’t get to the site to read more.)

  26. owlbear1

    Wow, a single shot. (Thanks for the link!:)

    All of the calculations they performed would have made them six seconds late…

  27. Randy

    Philosophically speaking, this is some deep sh*t!! Unbelievable.

  28. owlbear1,

    No, we had only one shot at this. Our set up time to take a single image is nearly as long as the whole EDL sequence. There was not enough time to take more than this single image.

  29. Rick

    Gah, don’t test my faith!

    I’m kidding…it’s so cool to see how far humanity has come in such a short time.

  30. swede

    I managed to convert my teenage brother yesterday (who never have shown interest in space or scifi) with the help of a link to the nasa tv stream 30 minutes before landing last night, he’s been pretty much glued to the screen since then :)

  31. Lurker #753

    They’re gonna put this on a T-shirt, right?


  32. Holyfrackingdinoriddingjesus!

    That is one of those things two days ago I would bet my paycheck it was impossible.

    Too many variables, too much space to cover, a precise timing. No, it can´t be done.

    Science has proven me wrong so many times I should be a priest.

  33. Dave Kary

    Very impressive.
    I heard a cute quote saying that the landing was equivalent to sinking a hole-in-one if you tee off in Washington and the hole is in Australia. They’ve now added to this by having a camera pre-programmed to take a picture of the ball just before it goes in.

    Nice shot.


  34. Jason

    I saw they were going to try this when reading about the mission last week and I thought it would be cool if they could pull it off. But I was still awe-struck when I saw it. Congratulations to everyone involved.

  35. themadlolscientist

    @Dave Kary: One of the JPL guys said that during the briefing last night. Another guy added: “And the hole is moving.” I ROFLd!

    @swede: =LOL= I got my science-impaired best buddy hooked too. I suppose he was sort of primed for it – he digs sci fi. But I’m forever having to explain things to him.

  36. Grizzly

    GAH! I just showed this to a buddy at work and he sent me a “picture” of the Space Shuttle exploding. Yeah, that one, the one that was taken from a movie…

    When I told him that he implied that this was photoshopped.

    I’m done. Time for an adult beverage.

  37. The Drifter

    I’m glad I’m not the only one to have teary eyes; this picture is just amazing.

    Science it works…

  38. Rawley

    Planck’s law for them CMBR?

  39. MaDeR

    This reminds me of first time that i seen Oppy from MRO. That was called by BA “Best. Picture. Evah.”. Amazing, just amazing.

    Now, time to prepare for MSL EDL (with obligatory inflight photo like this now). Only about two and a half of year!

  40. I’m happy to be alive today, and to have the capacity to appreciate this. Truly amazing. An homage to human ingenuity.

  41. That’s awesome! Thanks for tweeting what channel the landing was on; I was searching all over for it. It was cool to see it happen in real time. Or, as close as you can with the transmission delay.

  42. Hoonser

    Does this mean that all those spectacular full colour pictures of planets and stars you post on this page are nowhere near as cool as this grainy black and white photo of two dots?


  43. Ryan

    Absolutely insane. I can’t believe they actually caught that. NASA has had a couple of really good days haven’t they?

  44. Funkopolis

    Hoonser – of course! They’re OUR dots!

  45. Fernando Magyar

    Congratulations to all the scientists and engineers from all over the world who worked together on this project at NASA! WOO HOO!!!
    Ya think maybe someone could use this as an example and point out to shrub and his cronies what a real mission accomplished might look like?
    Wishful thinker that I am… I can’t help but let my mind wander over the possibilities if a small fraction of the money wasted in the Iraq war had been used for things like this.

  46. Len Bonacci

    Agreed, totally awesome picture — I was showing it to my co-workers this afternoon.

    But with respect to the “we did this” sentiment, it’s just technology. I would be far more impressed if we figured out the whole “try not to kill each other” thing. That would be impressive. But tech is easy compared to solving social ills — that’s why there’s such an imbalance in funding between bombs & social programs.

    Sorry, I’ll put the wet blanket away now… :-)

  47. Gary

    Okay. I saw that image and I started crying. I have no damned idea why. It’s just so damned amazing.

    We may not be able to do a lot of things right, but, dammit, occasionally we hit one out of the park.

  48. WJM

    ” ”


  49. WJM
    ” ”

    Can we quote you on that?



  50. Great image!! Just great…

  51. Richard H.


    Sure it’s “just technology” but there’s a whole heck of a lot of science to it. It is spectacular.

    So long as our youth maintain some semblance of science education, such cool stuff, and even cooler stuff can be done.

    If that science education is mitigated, then we’ll have live in a nation of “Coulda Been” and nothing more.

    So, we must ask ourselves a very important question: Do we want to continue working on the tools to understand ourselves and the Universe, or do we want to go back to the days of superstition and authoritarian explanations.

    We humans can do so much if we want to. We can also do so little. The choice is ours and ours alone.

    Again, this is an awesome photo. Congrats to all involved.

  52. Anton P. Nym

    Truly amazing; thank you, MRO team, for the fantastic work. It takes photos like that to remind me that us humans don’t always suck as much as I fear we do.

    — Steve

  53. DLC

    And once again, Science (and it’s stepson, Engineering) delivers the goods.
    or : Is this cool, or what!
    Sometime after all the excitement wanes a bit I’ll be looking at some of these photos. It’s just too cool to pass up!

    thanks for posting this, Phil. and I agree. just about the coolest pic ever.

  54. Andrew

    This is everything thats good about the human race. Striving for discovery and excellence, it restores my faith in our kind. We are such a young race, but we have so much potential when you see stuff like this. Absolutely wonderful……

  55. FPS

    I was at the planetarium today, and they had all of these meteorites and things to look at out in the lobby. They also had a tiny moon rock. For some reason, I couldn’t stop looking at it for like 15 minutes. I was just in awe at what I was looking at.

    And now this.

    Good day for me!

  56. John Phillips, FCD

    WOW, just… WOW. Well that and slightly teary eyes.

  57. Has there ever been a comparable picture taken from Earth orbit (either by an astronaut or a robot) of a space craft deorbiting or landing?

  58. lol

    ok ok, calm down…..

  59. Crudely Wrott

    Thanks for two grand things, Phil!

    First the picture. I’d heard last night that MRO would try to catch the image but there was, no surprise, any guarantee. And yet, there it is! We did it! We really did! What a wonderful example of ourselves and our machines, our far reaching eyes, working in symphony. What is revealed is not only what can happen but how. Pregnant, innit?

    Secondly thank you for mentioning what I have always considered a basic truism, that what people do with their minds is indeed science even if not intended or recognized. We observe, we reflect, we comment and then we try something new. If that ain’t science then I ain’t typing right now. Science is not defined by being correct. It is defined by its method. I declare that every scrap of grace enjoyed by our specie devolves directly from our ability to do science even if that ability does not always produce reliable results. We live and we learn.

    Hey man! How ’bout that landing? I’m still hottin and hollerin!

  60. Crudely Wrott

    Ahh, that would be “hooting and hollerin.”

    Something is trying to plug up the tubes tonight.

  61. Armand Rock

    I have always wondered…why can’t video be sent?

    Is the amount of data available really that little?

    I realise whatever happens is one way but video does not have to be perfect…they could simply send each frame uncompressed if there are somehow technical limitations to being able to compress video (perhaps a frame is not guaranteed)

    You would provide an “id” with each frame so you can reconstruct things and send them well above 30 per second that way the image quality would be pretty good when re-constructed at 30 frames per second

  62. Thanks for posting this pic!

  63. Qball

    Even more amazing.. the photo was taken from the orbiter which was 475km away…

  64. Qball

    Correction… 310km away. My bad.

  65. “Never, ever forget: we did this. This is what we can do.”

    This is my new favorite quote. Inspiring man, as well as the video. Your enthusiasm is contagious!

  66. A

    That is Sick!
    Yes! We – humans – did this!

  67. Bob Harvey

    I hope that we can take that same focus and energy and point it also at our energy crisis.

  68. what, no flying pony?

  69. the last line you wrote:

    “Never, ever forget: we did this. This is what we can do.”

    thank you for that. amidst the many negative traits of humanity, it is important to keep an eye out for the amazing potential of the human mind.

  70. LordofDorks

    If only we could send all of our problems into space, or better yet, make robots take care of our problems. I think that’s what you were alluding to when you said “this is what we can do”.

    Maybe we could make robots that could send poor people into space!

  71. ackbar

    The beginning of the end….

    Robot photo albums.

  72. AJ

    I don’t doubt the importance of the achievement, but the photo’s a real dud…

  73. mverta

    …nice to know humans galactically narcissistic obsession with the “grandeur” of every thing they do is alive and well. I’ll see your two remote control toys on Mars and raise you a dead Prom-night baby in a trash can.



  74. The Truth

    when stuff like this happens, how can you not believe in yourself.

  75. lolman

    ok this is going to be a unpopular statement, honestly but…
    what the hell is phoenix?

    dont get me wrong. im a honest-to-god atheist, scientologist-hating hell-bound sinner. but i dont really like the thought of humans sending stuff to other planets. or going to them. and honestly, in regards to the picture it looks a bit more like a jellyfish in a dirty tank than anything over mars, unless you look really closely. my thought was “what is this thing?” then “um… k… whats the point?”

    sorry for being a wet blanket, but it seems a bit stupid to me, sending billion dollars into space when there’s starving people back on earth, which is where we LIVE, at least for now, and all kinds of bad stuff going on, like a war. i mean, if i had a choice- spend 30 billion dollars on an idiotic war or on space technology i’d take the latter. but if i could pick anything, i’d most certainly choose to help say, the struggle with AIDS, or starvation. i’d also probably have an island built for me, floating exactly 7 3/4 inches off the surface of the atlantic ocean, with a small personal army and a fleet, from which i would attempt a stereotypical world domination ploy.

  76. Paul M.

    Um… lolman, you do know they don’t actually pack the money into the rocket don’t you?

  77. Fantastic! But I think we can do better.

    Lets see if the next time we snap a photo on something landing on Mars, it’s either people landing on Mars.

    Or a person already on Mars taking the photo of the landing, we can do it.

  78. Anonymous

    Not that i disagree with what your trying to say totally but look at it this way:

    Thinking solely on today is short sighted and the reason why humanity is in the trouble it is right now. If past generations did more than just think about “today” we probably wouldnt be in the shape we are in today.

    The phenomenon of thinking ahead for all of humanity is really fairly “new” in humanity and the reason why technologies are now being developed that either stop or help the problems we have put on the environment

    If humanity is going to survive Humans will have to colonise other planets…there are too many of us as it is on this planet…

    The only way that can happen is by understanding space around us and although it wont be needed with the current generations alive today future generations will be thankful for these explorations

    If your going to blame misspending there are plenty of other things you can look at. The next time your thinking of going out to the movies perhaps you should save that money and use it to donate to these causes…if this really bugs you this much

  79. Frac

    You know what I think is even cooler than the picture itself… 75 years ago we probably couldn’t have even done the *calculations* required to point that camera at the right spot.

  80. foo
  81. atromos

    and yet we still can’t stop killing those damn arabs. go technology! what about world hunger?

  82. Maltodextrin

    You know, it strikes me, could you imagine the feelings this image would evoke had the lander failed?

    Rather than a stirring image of human achievement we’d be staring at a mournful last glimpse of a dream lost on an alien world.

  83. Rob

    Wow. That is a jaw-dropper photo. That is- incredible. Wow. I’m at a loss for words.

  84. Navneeth

    I like the way Emily puts it into perspective: A speeding bullet photographed by a speeding bullet.

  85. Wow!

    It shows that we can achieve what we want, when we really go for it.

    And now, we are the aliens invading Mars.

  86. FME

    Did someone forget to take off the lens cap?

  87. Steve P.

    Yay good engineering enabling good science and vice versa.

  88. l0k1

    “Is it wrong that I got a little teared up looking at this.” (Giffy)

    not at all, man, not at all.

  89. shamed human

    What a waste……leaves a bitter taste in the mouth to know how much good all that money and resources could have done earth side…

    I wonder how many tons of pollution the rocket that launched phoenix blew into the atmosphere ..?!! I’m not saying exploration has no value but what’s the hurry…? Can’t we humans clean up our mess we created here on earth before we go dump garbage on other planets…

  90. @lolman: “The budget for Phoenix including launch is $386 million”.

    That is LESS THAN what the US spends on 20 hours of war in Iraq!

    So as long as your (I’m assuming you’re American, apologies if you’re not) (and my – so shameful) government insists on waging war on several fronts in the Middle East, don’t complain about groundbreaking science missions using up what amounts to ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. It’s a drop in a very big ocean.

    I think Phoenix will contribute a lot more to the human race than the war in Iraq ever did or ever will.

    Imagine what the US alone could do about world hunger and aids with $20 million an hour…

  91. derek

    It cost less than one day of Iraq occupation, or approximately Iron Man plus Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Crystal Skull. Google the following strings:

    phoenix mars lander cost million
    iraq occupation cost million
    indiana-jones crystal-skull cost million
    iron-man cost million

    People aren’t starving because of Phoenix, we could feed everyone and do Phoenix, or (more likely) cancel Phoenix and not feed anyone wih the money freed up.

    Mind you, while space scientists are congratulating themselves, they might reflect that they’re guilty of the same mistake when they bad mouth manned exploration because it “takes away” money from their science projects. The effect of you helping to argue for slashing manned space programs is not that money becomes available for science. It’s that the same arguments can then be used to cut science too.

  92. hsalkfjsl


    So in other words… we should be colonizing Mars, not Iraq.

    /Agrees 😉

  93. Respect to the staff. However, how many water wells could be established for the price of this picture?

  94. Brian

    I guess it’s inevitable that there would be comments from people wondering why we spend money in space when we could spend it on Earth instead, trying to solve all of our social ills. To the people that say these things, do you even know how much we spend in space? The amount is a pittance compared to most of the other things our money goes to every year, much of which is wasted on far less useful things than space travel. If we waited to explore space until after Earth’s problems were solved, then we would never get anywhere. Space exploration is a slow, long term process, that in the long run will have (and has had) remarkable benefits for humanity. It’s just going to take a long time before we even see where it can take us.

    And BTW, I too think that this is an amazing picture. Great job NASA, and I’m looking forward to seeing what kinds of science results they get back once they start digging.

  95. EarthLuber

    I should make an appointment with my optometrist. I think I have glaucoma. All I see is a couple of white specks. I’m missing out on the spectacular picture everyone is talking about.

  96. Leigh

    Phil, thank you so much. Not just for the picture; really even more for the video blog on your reaction to it. The emotion is . . . joy.

    My son, who is fourteen, has just told us he wants to be an astronomer. I’m happier than I can possibly tell you. I can’t wait to show this to him tomorrow.

  97. Naomi

    That is so. Damn. Cool. That’s almost as cool as the Pale Blue Dot picture!

  98. Attention Shamed Human and others of like persuasion.

    There will always be problems. When Columbus, Magellan, Cook, etc went around the world. There was poverty, war, disease, and a huge mess.

    Before that, when Ugg the caveman decided to take his people to other locations, there were wars, disease, and dangers. He should have stayed home.

    Think about it.

    As for the money. The space program in total has cost next to nothing compared to the various welfare programs around the world and in the US.

    Every weather satellite has saved lives.
    Every communication satellite has given us the capability of reacting to disasters wherever they are in the world.

    Think about it.

  99. Fury

    This is so fake!

  100. Richard H.

    Sending a probe such a Phoenix makes the Great Pyramid of Giza seem like so much of an anthill, it’s almost ridiculous.

    Egotistical kings made mountainous monuments, but human curiosity made the Phoenix, and the photo possible. Which is the more greater.

    And I hope this photo, and the Phoenix landing, all the more reason to tell Ben Stein to shut the eff up.

    Science leads to greater understandings of the universe, and not merely petty squabbles such as the Catholic/Protestant purges of the past.

    We can use science to lead us to a greater understanding of the universe than any other “ancient wisdom” has ever led us.

    I mean, come on, Kinoke footpads! If by “ancient wisdom” you mean “charlatan salesmanship,” then I’ll grant you a meaningless title.

    Ancient wisdom, my buttocks. Ancient wisdom never had telescopes, microscopes, or any methods to save their naked buttocks. “Chi” never found Pluto or Neptune. Human curiosity has always led to a better understanding of the universe and ourselves.

  101. MaDeR

    EarthLuber, this thingy called “Reality” is a little different than these fun special effects from newest Star Wars francishe. Go to cinema, we prefer The Real Thing.

    And about these “think about poor people” guys… what a bunch of hipocritics. If you think a moment about this, you will know why.

  102. Rob Record

    Visually it’s underwhelming, but you don’t get to see this kind of thing EVER and once you realise that – it’s pretty cool.

    I would like to know what all the grainy surrounding stuff is in the ‘sky’ – is it part of the atmosphere? Is it chemical rain?

  103. Twinkle

    Call me greedy but… I *so* wish we had video of it.

    I don’t mean to detract anything from the accomplishment, or the significance of the image, but could you just imagine the feeling in your gut if you could actually watch the thing land?

    I believe there is video, somewhere, of Huygens landing on Titan (with audio, even!). That was coool with a triple ‘o’.

  104. Keanu Reeves
  105. Excellent piece of writing as well!

  106. Freeworld

    wow, just wow!

  107. USA

    Most importantly, Americans did this.

    With thrusters baby!!!!! No way to get people there with balloons cushioning a 100mph impact. Thrusters ALL the way.

  108. Mark

    Big deal. I am completely underwhelmed.

    Mankind is miles behind where it should be now in regards to space exploration. Its shameful when then is classed as the height of a species abilities in space when it should be routine.

  109. LC

    Stunning. I just wish more people understood why.

  110. James

    Amazing picture!

  111. Deepsix

    Those commenting about the photo being “underwhelming”, don’t you understand it isn’t about the visuals of the photo? It’s the meaning, the implications, the wonder, the accomplishment, ect, ect, ect. I almost feel sad for those that don’t get it.

    And questioning whether we should be spending money on exploration? Seriously? Do you know where we would be if someone wasn’t willing to explore? If others weren’t willing to finance exploration? You wouldn’t be here reading this now, that’s for sure.

  112. Dang Phil, you’re really leveraging the Digg effect recently. However, as a loyal reader, I’m glad to see everything here first, then on Digg later.

  113. Wendy

    way to go NASA! i’m hope phoenix will be able to share the same fate as the twin rovers, serving us more than we are expecting, with remarkable findings from Mars!

  114. Celtic_Evolution

    @ Mark

    Great sentiment. Really.

    And I really don’t accept you as the authority for determining this, but even if you are right about being “miles” behind where we should be… does that mean we should be grumpy and unimpressed whenever we DO accomplish something truly amazing? Behind or not?

    When the world for you ends at the tip of your nose, you are truly missing out on the joy of discovery. Pity for you.

    And seriously, if your reaction to this is “big deal. I am completely underwhelmed”, then maybe a blog about astronomy, science, and discovery is not really where you should be wasting your time.

  115. JKessler


  116. Sam

    I think India could do this cheaper which free up NASA to do “higher value” work.

  117. themadlolscientist

    Emily said it won’t last beyond 3 or maybe 4 months because once the sun goes down for the winter, it won’t be able to keep its batteries charged. Also, once it gets cold there’s a good chance of their getting covered with frost.

  118. themadlolscientist

    The solar panels getting covered with frost, I mean.

  119. Sam: Your sentiment ignores so many pragmatic realities of politics as to be meaningless. Are you suggesting we stop funding these types of missions at NASA and instead give all of that money to India, so they can grab all the glory? Not bloody likely!

    Or are you saying we should just stop doing these kinds of missions, and hope India does all of the “low value” missions out of the goods of their hearts, leaving us to grab all of the glory for the “high value” ones? Not bloody likely!

    Incidentally, you also need to recalibrate your idea of “low value” and “high value”. Phoenix is an incredibly complex instrumentation package designed to find life on Mars (if it is there). It’s not just a box intended to fall to the surface. India couldn’t have pulled it off. They have no space probe experience.

  120. DK

    We as humans have proven our capabilities, so in general yes, “we did this”. But let’s not take the credit for something “we” didn’t do.. Amazing job to all those that actually worked on these projects!

  121. will

    this science could save us some day and we would have spent the money anyway….

  122. banquo's_bumble_puppy Monty

    amazing times we live in….right on!!!!

  123. Peter

    Dont get me wrong I understant why this is amazing.
    Maybe someone could take a photo of a kid starving to death in Africa… oh wait yeah it’s been done. In fact so many times no one gives a sh** anymore.
    I honestly don’t quite get the idea of finding life out there, there’s hardly any on this planet. And if your looking for inteligent life… well I’ve heard there is…
    Dont get me wrong I know why this is amazing but the fact is the money is cost to build alone one of the probes that didn’t make it would be enough to supply hundreads of villages with potable water.
    I guess some people want answer up there when we dont even know wtf is going on down here.
    I repeat: I understant why this is an amazing shot.

  124. Johan S

    Never, ever forget: we did this. This is what we can do.

    You guys did, and other humans did. But I am pretty sure I myself had nothing whatsoever to do with this impressive achievement.

  125. Celtic_Evolution

    @ Peter –

    Some of your statements are valid to a point… but as has been stated before, stop making it sound like it’s an either / or thing as far as spending the money on Phoenix or feeding the starving. We as a country do quite a bit of the latter, too. And as BA has pointed out before, you want to find a place to complain about really wasting money that could be better used elsewhere? Look no further than the staggering daily bill for the Iraq war. Of all the places one can complain about “better spending the money”, picking on the Phoenix’s comparitively piddling ~$400 million budget is pretty petty… especially considering the potential payoff.

    But in truth, this line from you really sums it up for me: “I honestly don’t quite get the idea of finding life out there”… well… I don’t know what to tell you… I can’t imagine a more fundamentally life-altering discovery.

    @ Johan S.
    We = humanity… feel free to revel in the achievment.

  126. That picture is simply amazing. It makes me want to work for NASA.

  127. Peter

    @ Celtic_Evolution

    I see your point and it would be as you put it a “life-altering discovery”.
    But conspiracy theory apart and let’s face a fact of nasa finding inteligent life (and not refering only to little green men, maybe even a life form like “Solaris” errr weird and dead “people” aside)
    Would we know about it? Would it leak? If it did it would be panic and chaos. People fear what they dont know and hate what they fear (and i did not just quote eddie murphy)
    So safe bet is we would never know. So “we” are actually wasting so much money to find microorganisms. Could it really be that important?
    What are they going to do with it? Develop more biological weapons?
    I dont see much money being invested in cloning organs. I do believe that could help people who die while on a bloody donor list.
    And war on Iraq? Waste of money? I wouldn’t be suprised if the US were selling their old weapons to the other side (wouldn’t be the first time). When I read George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty Four” I took the text given to what’s his name to read very seriously. War is good for a “super-power”. Do you know gasoline prices where i live have raised 19 times this year? Someone is making money out this.
    Man way off topic… sorry.. it just came out :S

  128. Jason

    Phil, I never thought I’d say it, but I think we’ve seen the #1 astronomy image of the year. And it’s only May!

  129. Celtic_Evolution

    @ Peter –

    Well, I can’t take your comments seriously and put “conspiracy theory” aside. Because that is exactly what you are spouting here… conspiracy theory. I need you to face facts for a second and think this through logically… what would be the purpose of luanching the mission with the main purpose of finding life, and make it so public… and make the landing so public, if they were just going to keep the results secret if they fall a certain way? Makes no sense. Why not just keep the whole project secret from start to finish? Or better yet, not bother with the whole exercise in the first place? It makes no sense. With any conspiracy theory, one has to ask one’s self… does this make any sense whatsoever? In this case it just doesn’t… and I really don’t care to even discuss such a goofy scenario any further unless you can provide some even tiny piece of evidence that you might be even close to right, instead of just wild conspiracy laiden inuendo.

    As for this comment: “I wouldn’t be suprised if the US were selling their old weapons to the other side (wouldn’t be the first time).”… Well, there’s yet another unfounded conspiracy theory (I think I’m starting to understand your leanings here more and more), but let’s say for the sake of argument that you’re right, it doesn’t make the war any less a waste of money nor does it invalidate my point that there are far bigger money sink-holes that you could be railing against than the relatively inexpensive Phoenix lander.

  130. Peter

    @ Celtic_Evolution

    The conspiracy thing I was reffering was if the probe was looking for little green men but it isn’t. It was just because someone I know thought they were looking for life forms similar to little green men. Then i moved on to microorganisms and biological weapons.
    I beg your pardon if I express my ideas in a way you do not really understand what i am trying to get at. English is not my mother tongue.
    US did not sell weapons before to who it was fighting against but to both sides of wars they did not participate in. Pardon for expressing myself incorrectly.
    I do think that it is not a valid argument that because there are “far bigger money sink-holes” we should dismiss this as what it is: a sink-hole.
    I didn’t understand what you meant with my “leanings”.

  131. Stark

    Peter –

    Here are some numbers for you:

    US Defense Budget 2007 : $548.8 Billion (not including ~115 billion extra to fund the war)

    Welfare : $294 Billion

    Interest on Debt! : $243.7 Billion

    Foreign Affairs (Aid) : $32.5 Billion (this money builds those wells you were talking about)

    Agriculture : $27 Billion (paying farmers not to farm- yay!)

    Community and Regional Development : $25 Billion (some of this also goes into foreign aid projects)

    NASA Budget 2007 : $15.8 Billion

    Pheonix : ~380 Million dollars.

    So, let’s take money from one of the least funded agencies in the government which also happens to be the only agency that historically ends up creating a return on the investment. Yeah, thats brilliant that is. Meanwhile we fund a pointless war to the tune of 115 billion over an already huge budget of over half a trillion dollars. But hey, NASA is a waste of money… after all it’s not like they are the reason we have communication satellites and weather satellites which provide amazing information on where best to find water and grow crops in Africa. What? They are… oh!

    So, exactly what can you do with 50 Billion in foreign aid that you can’t do with 35 anyhow? Hmm? Your average well in a third world country costs less than US 1000 to install. So, 35 billion / 1000 is……… yeah, 35 million wells. Or 3 wells per square mile across all of Africa (~11 million square miles of land mass there). Keep in mind this is just money from the US – the rest of the western world puts in a good pile of money as well.

    Are you getting the idea yet that continued thirst/starvation in this world is not a function of money spent? Because you should be. It’s more of a question of local leadership, local wars, local prejudices. Look at Myanmar for an excellent recent example. Aid was lined up around the proverbial block… but the “leadership” of that country wouldn’t let it in.

    If you want to solve the worlds problems then run for office and do something about the Robert Mugabe’s and Myanmar Junta’s of the world. Throwing more money at global poverty doesn’t seem to be doing a whole heck of a lot except making the despots ruling those impoverished places very very rich.

  132. slang

    The achievement is even more amazing when you know the parachute deployed about 7 seconds later than expected, which must have been a bit of a change in the expected location to take the shot. I don’t know how many pictures it took to get one with the chute in it, but still, a stunning picture.

    Absolutely fantastic.

  133. Peter

    @ Stark

    Thank you for the figures.

    I must disagree (and probably only with that) with 2 things.

    I used the wells as an example, wouldn’t want a well every inch of africa otherwise then we would have to spend more money so children wouldn’t fall in (ok bad joke)

    “So, exactly what can you do with 50 Billion in foreign aid that you can’t do with 35 anyhow?”

    If we could change this fictious statistic:

    2000 deaths pear year by famine/disease/yadayadayada
    1999 deaths pear year by famine/disease/yadayadayada

    I would say it was 25 billion well spent.

    Are you getting the idea yet that continued thirst/starvation in this world is not a function of money spent?

    Actually it is, but that’s not Nasa cut fault. I am against the war on Iraq (I do have a brain).
    Since the US wento to iraq to help maybe the States should invade Zimbabwe bring peace and all. Oh wait.. no oil there… maybe that’s got something to do with it.

    I could have gone after any of the facts you mentioned, I striked this one because (and you know) there are people that speak of this like it’s the best thing in the world and do not have any knowledge of the topics we discussed. I believe it should be the other way around.

    The rest, valid points, never said I thought otherwise just expressed my view on space exploration.

    No one gave me an answer either to organ cloning or the biological weapons thing…
    Should I believe I’m right?

  134. Peter

    And I most certainly did not say that 50 minus 35 is 25.
    That would be plain stupid.

  135. Heather

    Wow, what a great photo to show what WE were able to do. My question is, when am I finally going to be able to buy a combination washer/dryer machine in the US? It’s friggin 2008 already!!! Our country is so far behind technologically that I am embarassed….

  136. Celtic_Evolution

    @ Peter

    No one gave me an answer either to organ cloning or the biological weapons thingâ?¦
    Should I believe Iâ??m right?

    No. By no means. I think the suggesstion was merely dismissed as utter imagined fantasy.

    You are more than welcome to share a differing opinion or ask questions… but please, do not make wild and baseless accusations for which you have not even a single shred of evidence other than your own imagination.

    To answer your question, we know enough about Mars to know that it currently would not (likely) be able to sustain life on any scale beyond microscopic… and that life would likely exist in the form of microbes that are sustained in the martian frost at the polar regions. It’s an educated guess on the most likely type of life that would be found and the most likely location it would be found in. So the logical course of action in attempting to find life on Mars would be to focus on finding microbial life in polar permafrost regions. To try to search for life on a larger scale would be a waste of time, not the other way around, as you suggested.

    And the point is, really, that life found on another planet, of ANY scale, microbial or otherwise, will be the greatest discovery in history. What size the life might be is really immaterial. Do you really not understand the magnitude of such a discovery and what it means?

    I can’t believe I really need to address this silly issue… but do you really think anyone would go to the trouble of finding a few samples of life on Mars to use for biologic weapons? Can you not work our for yourself the utter silliness of this supposition? If someone were so inclined, they can do a far better and more efficient job of coming up with biologoc weapons right here on earth without needing to go to Mars… I can’t even begin to address all the things wrong with that conspiracy theory, or its terribly flawed logic.

    Oh… and by the way, to put to rest one of your other arguments… there is quite a bit of money being currently spent on cloning and regrowing human organs… Initially $250 million, and much much more will be committed if current research continues to pan out… see this article for more details:

  137. Howard

    The picture is amazing admittedly, an incredible achievement, but I love the final comment most of all – “Never, ever forget: we did this. This is what we can do.”

    That’s the whole point about this really, isn’t it? If we chose to do this more, what could we really achieve as a species? The mind boggles.

  138. Rubens

    Bah!… Just a stupid photo with 2 blanks points and nothing more!…

  139. FME

    Did someone forget to take off the lens cap??

  140. Patrick Callahan

    Are you freaking kidding me? It’s 2 white dots on a plain black background.

    I understand what it is, that’s amazing yes, but the photo isn’t amazing at all.

    If it was a HD photo that was super clear it would be more amazing, but I’m sorry there is nothing really special about this photo.

  141. i loved this. i agree entirely and will share why.

    i followed the coverage of cassini-huygens avidly when i found out there was a small audio sensor on the huygens lander and they have audio.

    it’s fairly abstract, as the microphone had a 1 bit per second sample rate, but that bit was recorded in extreme fidelity and all aspects were analyzed to listen for thunder and, consequently, proof of rain storms.

    regardless, it represents the greatest piece of sound ever to grace my brain.

    the volume shifts for reasons unbeknownst to our scientists, and the probe returned gorgeous pictures of a worl with a tenuous atmosphere made of chemicals that help form life. it drizzles these chemicals and they form lakes and snow. the moon is distant and shrouded in clouds, so it is twilight dark at the brightest noon there, and colder there than almost anywhere in our solar system, save for triton and pluto. the gases we flatulate and what microorganisms breathe out naturally are the air, water and snow and surface pebbles there instead of the volatile gases we know them to be on earth.

    we don’t know anything about titan other than what we can see, and what little we got from the probe, but the mystery for me is more fun than a complete analysis. it’s amazing to think that as much as we think we know about our own world, there are countless others whose environs are based on the same chemistry and physics that made us able to eventually dicker about the best wrong explanation for why we exist at all. and we don’t know why the volume swells on the recording. from a metal ball with gauges we dropped on a moon of a planet over an hour away from us at the fastest speed in the universe.

    it just serves to remind me (and hopefully others) that even though most of what we can see outside our planet seems desolate, it is rich with variety and rife with potential. it is a beautiful place, no matter where you look, because nearest we can tell, it’s just like that because of the way things work in this continuum.

    in other words, the universe is an infinitely large flower which may or may not even be ripe for the picking. and we are lucky enough to live in it and be curious enough about it to explore, examine and enjoy it for what it simply is.

    that picture gave me goosebumps like the huygens recording did. because you are absolutely right. one robot homed in and took a photo of another robot descending to help us learn more about a planet we’ve never set foot on yet. truly amazing to behold.

    here’s the link to the audio direct from the european space agency’s website:

  142. addendum: at first glance, i noticed there are many people commenting in huge essays, rather than everyone just dismissing the grainy image of two white bits and some blackness from Somewhere Else Entirely as simply thus, and not worth thinking about.

    but, much like the audio clip i linked to, it is an abstract compared to seeing or hearing such things in person, which is neither practical nor feasible as of yet.

    the point is, it’s an abstract the nonetheless represents unprecedented acheivment in the name of learning and proof that all hope may not be lost back here. it just means that there is so much we don’t know and that to assume we are in any way important, that exploring other planets in our neighborhood is not, displays the very ignorance that threatens our entire civilization (and i use that term loosely).

    the more things like this we can show to everyone, the more everyone may come to appreciate what we’ve got and what we’ve got to learn.

  143. >>shamed human:

    rocket fuel is probably less harmful in the current does the environment gets than the fumes in cars, or even the greenhouse gases we breathe and excrete daily, not to mention factories, cars and planes.

    the point is, earth is big when you live on it, but we’re small by comparison with the rest of everything that exists.

    i entirely echo the sentiment about needing to look out planetside while doing this, but worrying about a tiny planet orbiting a small, average star in an old galaxy about to smash into another old galaxy in an expanding universe that we don’t even understand fully seemto to me to pale by comparison to the prospect of learning more about that same universe, and applying that knowledge to our daily lives. we cannot understand our place in the forest of life if we refuse to look past the trees directly in front of us here.

    long-term-wise, we are in trouble unless we continue to learn and grow and adapt to our environment, even if we are altering that by adapting the environment to our own comfort level.

    in five hundred years, if we’re fortunate enough to have not nuked ourselves out of existence or burned away our atmosphere, the folly in our culture will be obvious to history, as will the achievement of exploring the rest of everything and taking it all into account, as opposed to the present plan of taking everything for granted, and barely acknowledging the literal fact that we truly know nothing of how the universe really behaves in all circumstances.

    this is like seeing a miracle performed and restoring your faith in your personal myth of existence; it serves to bolster morale and remind us that we are capable of so much more than patty infighting over land or dinosaur sludge, or even worse, assuming we know everything and are somehow destined to inherit the infinitely large, largely unknown universe we so blindly ignore most of the time we spend thinking about “life”.

    this is the last comment, i promise.

  144. phil, or whomever – if you see fit to approve my comments, feel free to put them together and prevent my thoughts from cluttering your blog.


  145. bailey


  146. RON

    i don’t know

  147. RON
  148. mark

    “Never, ever forget: we did this. This is what we can do.”

    amen brother, amen.

  149. Merijn

    It took only 4 years for it to be surpassed by another Best.Image.Ever. of Curiosity landing on the same planet. Total awesomeness.


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