Washington, Nov 6 : The life of Mars Phoenix Lander is literally hanging by a thread, with the solar-powered probe running out of sunlight, a condition that is being described by scientists as the 'Hospice' mode.
According to a report in Discovery News, compared to NASA's long-lived Mars rovers, the ice-sampling Phoenix lander is presently in a communications coma, just five months after touchdown.
But, there is nothing engineers could have done to fix the fundamental problem.
Phoenix, which is stationed near the Red Planet's northern pole, is running out of sunlight, a death knell for a solar-powered probe.
When Phoenix landed on May 25, it was the start of summer on the Martian Arctic Circle, land of the midnight sun.
The probe worked well enough for NASA to extend its planned 90-day mission until the end of the September, and later to mid-November.
But, with summer slipping into autumn and the sun dipping below the horizon for longer and longer periods of time, Phoenix has been struggling to generate enough power from its solar cells to keep functioning.
It is dark now for more than seven hours a day.
"We're in hospice mode," Phoenix principal investigator Peter Smith, with the University of Arizona in Tucson, told Discovery News.
At best, NASA hopes to eke out a week's more monitoring of the changing conditions on Mars.
The probe, whose prime mission was to chemically analyze ice and soil samples so scientists can determine if Mars was ever suitable to host life, is also equipped with meteorological instruments and cameras.
There will be no more data coming back from Phoenix's miniature ovens and wet chemistry sets, which were used to assess ice and soil near the landing site.
"We have all the data we're going to get," Smith said. "We didn't get every single thing we could have because of the complexity of delivering soil up there into the chambers," he added.
Smith said that he's not yet ready to state if Mars was suited for life, but he added, "I think there is going to be enough data to make a final pronouncement."