Spirit Spies Meteorites?

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornel

From its winter outpost at "Low Ridge" inside Gusev Crater, NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Spirit took this spectacular, color mosaic of hilly, sandy terrain and two potential iron meteorites. The two light-colored, smooth rocks about two-thirds of the way up from the bottom of the frame have been labeled "Zhong Shan" and "Allan Hills."

The two rocks’ informal names are in keeping with the rover science team’s campaign to nickname rocks and soils in the area after locations in Antarctica. Zhong Shang is an Antarctic base that the People’s Republic of China opened on Feb. 26, 1989, at the Larsemann Hills in Prydz Bay in East Antarctica. Allan Hills is a location where researchers have found many Martian meteorites, including the controversial ALH84001, which achieved fame in 1996 when NASA scientists suggested that it might contain evidence for fossilized extraterrestrial life. Zhong Shan was the given name of Dr. Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925), known as the "Father of Modern China." Born to a peasant family in Guangdong, Sun moved to live with his brother in Honolulu at age 13 and later became a medical doctor. He led a series of uprisings against the Qing dynasty that began in 1894 and eventually succeeded in 1911. Sun served as the first provisional president when the Republic of China was founded in 1912.

The Zhong Shan and Allan Hills rocks, at the left and right, respectively, have unusual morphologies and miniature thermal emission spectrometer signatures that resemble those of a rock known as "Heat Shield" at the Meridiani site explored by Spirit’s twin, Opportunity. Opportunity’s analyses revealed Heat Shield to be an iron meteorite.

Spirit acquired this approximately true-color image on the rover’s 872nd Martian day, or sol (June 16, 2006), using exposures taken through three of the panoramic camera’s filters, centered on wavelengths of 600 nanometers, 530 nanometers, and 480 nanometers.

Spirit has been busy receiving new flight software upgrades, both directly from Earth via the rover’s high-gain antenna and indirectly via relay from NASA’s Odyssey spacecraft. Engineers anticipated that all flight software upgrades would be on board the rover by early in the week of July 10, 2006.

Spirit also successfully completed a procedure to correct for drift in the inertial measurement unit, resulting in more accurate pointing of the miniature thermal emission spectrometer. Spirit remains healthy and continues to make progress on the rover’s winter science campaign of experiments.

Spirit’s handlers planned to have the rover spend part of the weekend calibrating the brush on the rock abrasion tool, using images from the panoramic camera and hazard avoidance cameras to characterize dirt buildup on the instrument.

NASA’s Opportunity rover captured this view of "Burns Cliff" after driving right to the base of this southeastern portion of the inner wall of "Endurance Crater." The view combines frames taken by Opportunity’s panoramic camera between Nov. 13 and 20, 2004.
Image credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell

Solar array input was down to about 290 watt-hours per sol (a hundred watt-hours is the amount of electricity needed to light one 100-watt bulb for one hour).

Opportunity, meanwhile, is healthy. Opportunity has had a full plate with a new flight software load being uplinked and the rover driving towards "Victoria Crater." Despite this busy schedule, Opportunity has been taking advantage of every remote sensing window to acquire good science.

Opportunity is continuing the uplink of its new flight software load with almost half of the required files already onboard. Starting with Sol 865, flight software load files are being sent through the Mars Odyssey forward link path in addition to the X-band high-gain antenna path.

Opportunity has completed three more drives towards "Victoria Crater." As of Sol 862 (June 27, 2006), the river was 202 meters (663 feet) from "Beagle Crater" and 705 meters (0.44 mile) from Victoria Crater.

The Mössbauer spectrometer instrument has begun to show some minor anomalies although no degradation is noted in the actual measurement channels. As time permits, the team has been conducting diagnostics to troubleshoot the issue.


Related Web Pages

Mars Rovers/JPL
MastCam
Hobbled Spirit Heading for Sun
Wintering on Mars
Spirit’s Trail
Walking Naked on the Red Planet
Roving the Red Planet
Living on Mars
Opportunity’s Anniversary