At the Gusev site recently, skies have been very dusty, and on its 421st sol (March 10, 2005) NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit spied two dust devils in action. This pair of images is from the rover's rear hazard-avoidance camera. Views of the Gusev landing region from orbit show many dark streaks across the landscape -- tracks where dust devils have removed surface dust to show relatively darker soil below -- but this is the first time Spirit has photographed an active dust devil. One sol before this image was taken, power output from Spirit's solar panels went up by about 50 percent when the amount of dust on the panels decreased. Was this a coincidence, or did a helpful dust devil pass over Spirit and lift off some of the dust?
Image Credit: NASA/JPL
Spirit's work capabilities grew with a sudden jump in output from solar panels on March 9, which caused the daily power supply to double. In a possibly related development three days earlier, some dust appeared to have blown onto lenses of Spirit's front hazard-avoidance camera, enough for slight mottling in images from both the left and right eyes of the stereo camera, but not enough to affect the usefulness of the camera. Mottling in left-eye images cleared markedly the same day the power increased. Team members speculated that Spirit's power boost, like similar ones on Opportunity in October, resulted from wind removing some accumulated dust from solar panels. Spirit captured pictures of dust-lofting whirlwinds on March 10, adding evidence for windy local conditions. Images the next day showed solar panels cleaned of most of their dust buildup.
NASA has suspended use of one of the mineral-identifying tools on the Opportunity Mars rover while experts troubleshoot a problem with getting data from the instrument, the robot's miniature thermal emission spectrometer.
"As always, our first priority is to protect the instrument, so we have turned it off while we plan diagnostic tests," said Jim Erickson of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., project manager for the Mars Exploration Rover Project. "Opportunity's other instruments are healthy and providing excellent science, and Spirit's entire instrument suite is working well and being kept busy by the science team."
Link: USGS Astro - Mars Exploration Rover Project