Scientists at the University of Arizona erupted in celebration last night, and for good reason. They successfully coaxed their Mars Phoenix Lander onto the surface after a tricky landing sequence, and within hours the vehicle began sending pictures back to Earth. The most interesting aspect of the new pictures was how close they came to expectations in the polar region:

NASA’s Mars Phoenix Lander began sending photos of the planet’s surface on the first day of its three-month mission “to taste and sniff the northern polar site’s soil and ice,” the space agency said.

The first pictures, which the lander began taking shortly after touching down near Mars’ north pole — the end of a 422 million-mile trek — showed a pattern of brown polygons as far as the camera could see.

“It’s surprisingly close to what we expected and that’s what surprises me most,” said Peter Smith, the mission’s principal investigator. “I expected a bigger surprise.”

The polygonal pattern resembles frozen ground on Earth in arctic regions. It demonstrates that the same physical forces at home apply on Mars, which may sound unsurprising, but it’s at least momentous to see that theory confirmed for the first time.

Here’s another picture from the UA website, which has not yet been colorized. It’s a shot of the horizon:

This gives a good look at the polygonal patterns that scientists expected to see. I’m curious to see what that vertical white spot is in the lower part of the upper right quadrant just below the horizon, though. It looks like a singular rock formation. I’ll bet that gets the attention of the project managers as well.

Tags: Arizona