It was fascinating to hear that the Phoenix Lander (lots of good info on Wikipedia) had successfully arrived on the surface of Mars, some 680,000,000 km away. But 680 million km is quite hard to fathom, what with our relatively small reference scales (and not just our diminutive size as humans – even the Earth fits some 53,000 times side-by-side between here and Mars).
Perhaps this will help… I read somewhere that the landing was the golf equivalent of sinking a hole-in-one, only with the tee in Sydney and the hole in New York. Not hard enough, you say? Then consider that the tee and the hole are moving at different speeds the whole time – you’ll need to aim for where the flag’s going to be, not where it is now.
It takes 20 minutes for communications from the Phoenix to reach Earth. If you’re at the cricket (or baseball, or even hockey) and the batsman hits the ball, there’s about a 1/4-second delay before you hear the crack of the ball on the bat. The delay from Phoenix to Earth is like seeing the ball hit the bat on Monday morning and hearing it at lunchtime Wednesday…
As if that wasn’t sufficiently incredible, I then saw this image:
That’s a photo of the Phoenix with its parachute deployed, descending to the surface of Mars. The photo came from a satellite NASA had previously sent to orbit Mars, and it was the one and only shot the satellite could take after the time it took to get pointed in the right direction. But I hear you clamour for more. Here, have another fascinating fixation: the photo was taken while the Phoenix Lander was slowing from a speed of 20,000 km/h upon entering the atmosphere of Mars to a lazy 7 km/h – in the space of seven minutes.
I applaud the ingenuity, creativity and precision of all involved. Bravo – take a bow.