This image, and many like it, are one way NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander is measuring trace amounts of water vapor in the atmosphere over far-northern Mars. Phoenix's Surface Stereo Imager (SSI) uses solar filters, or filters designed to image the sun, to make these images. The camera is aimed at the sky for long exposures.
SSI took this image as a test on June 9, 2008, which was the Phoenix mission's 15th Martian day, or sol, since landing, at 5:20 p.m. local solar time. The camera was pointed about 38 degrees above the horizon. The white dots in the sky are detector dark current that will be removed during image processing and analysis.
The Phoenix Mission is led by the University of Arizona, Tucson, on behalf of NASA. Project management of the mission is by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. Spacecraft development is by Lockheed Martin Space.
Photojournal Note: As planned, the Phoenix lander, which landed May 25, 2008 23:53 UTC, ended communications in November 2008, about six months after landing, when its solar panels ceased operating in the dark Martian winter.