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Winds on Mars and Diagnostic Tests Planned for Instrument on Mars Rover

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Dust devils from the rovers point of view
Dust Devils Seen by Spirit

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

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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."

More: JPL Diagnostic Tests Planned for Instrument on Mars Rover

Link: USGS Astro - Mars Exploration Rover Project


THEMIS Wraps Up Images as Art Month

Thursday, March 3, 2005

Images as Art 49

THEMIS Images as Art #49

You can almost hear the sound of birds flying across the moon in this image.


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Jan. 31 through March 4 of 2005, the Mars Odyssey THEMIS team has been showcasing images for their aesthetic value, rather than their science content. Portions of these images resemble things in everyday life, from animals to letters of the alphabet. This is the second annual THEMIS Art Month.

More: Mars Odyssey 2005 THEMIS Images As Art, view each week's images -
Link: USGS Astrogeology Mars Ice - exploring the ices of Mars using Mars Global Surveyor TES and Mars Odyssey THEMIS instruments

Mars Rovers Break Driving Records, Examine Salty Soil

Thursday, March 3, 2005

Naturaliste Crater

'Naturaliste' Crater Opportunity Sol 387

NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity used its navigation camera to take the images combined into this view of the rover's surroundings on Opportunity's 387th martian day, or sol (Feb. 24, 2005). Opportunity had driven about 73 meters (240 feet) and reached the eastern edge of a small crater dubbed "Naturaliste," seen in the right foreground. This view is the right-eye member of a stereo pair presented in a cylindrical-perspective projection with geometric and brightness seam correction.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL

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On three consecutive days, NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity accomplished unprecedented feats of martian motion, covering more total ground in that period than either Opportunity or its twin, Spirit, did in their first 70 days on Mars.

Spirit, meanwhile, has uncovered soil that is more than half salt, adding to the evidence for Mars' wet past. The golf-cart-size robots successfully completed their three-month primary missions in April 2004 and are continuing extended mission operations.

More: JPL - Mars Rovers Break Driving Records, Examine Salty Soil

Link: USGS Astro - Mars Exploration Rover Project