Lidar laser beam captured in new image on Phoenix Mars Web site

A new image featured on the Phoenix Mars Mission Web site shows Canadian know-how in action. A laser beam from the Canadian-built lidar instrument on NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander can be seen in a new contrast-enhanced sequence of 10 images taken by Phoenix’s Surface Stereo Imager on July 26. The image, taken during the early hours of the mission’s 61st Martian day after landing, shows a thin green line piercing the Martian sky.

The lidar, or laser-based light-detecting-and-ranging system, uses laser light pulses to precisely measure distances and diagnose components of the atmosphere, including concentrations of fog, dust and clouds. It is part of the mission’s meteorological information (MET) package providing a comprehensive picture of Martian weather at the landing site on Mars.

Above: An image of a laser beam from the Canadian-built lidar instrument on NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander

The view is almost straight up and includes about 1.5 kilometres of the length of the beam. The camera, from its position close to the lidar on the lander deck, took the images through a green filter centred on light with wavelength 532 nanometres, the same wavelength of the laser beam. The sequence has been artificially coloured to approximately match the colour that would be seen looking through this filter on Mars. Contrast is enhanced to make the beam more visible.

The lidar beam can be seen extending from the lower right to the upper right, near the zenith, as it reflects off particles suspended in the atmosphere. Particles that scatter the beam directly into the camera can be seen to produce brief sparkles of light. In the background, dust can be seen drifting across the sky pushed by winds aloft. The lidar probes the "boundary layer" of the Martian atmosphere. This is the turbulent layer of the atmosphere about seven to 10 km above the surface.

Researchers in the Department of Earth and Space Science & Engineering, Faculty of Science & Engineering at York University, led the Canadian science team responsible for the design and construction of the lander’s sophisticated weather station, which is gathering critical data about the weather and climate on Mars. This meteorological information package is providing a comprehensive picture of Martian weather at the landing site. It was constructed with $37 million in funding from the Canadian Space Agency.

For more information on the mission, visit the Phoenix Mission Web site.