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This just in...

February 11, 2004

The closer we look at this outcrop at Meridiani, the more interesting it gets. We knew when we saw it from a distance that it had really thin layers. When we checked it out with the Microscopic Imager, though,(see a cool image here) we saw some very strange things. One is that the layers are really thin... like just a few millimeters thick in some cases. Another is that we see these strange round objects we're calling "spherules" embedded in the outcrop, like blueberries in a muffin. The outcrop erodes away as it gets sandblasted, and the spherules (which seem to resist erosion better than the rest of the outcrop does) fall out and roll down the hill. Weird.

We're in the middle of doing two things now. One is driving along the face of the outcrop and shooting lots and lots of high-resolution images of it. We'll use those to pick a couple of places that we'll drive to later and really look at up close. The other is puzzling through some data that we took on a spot called Stone Mountain at the far right end of the outcrop. We've got APXS, Moessbauer, and Mini-TES data on Stone Mountain now. The one result so far that you can really hang your hat on is that the outcrop is chock full of sulfur... much higher in sulfur than anything ever seen on Mars before. And the Moessbauer and Mini-TES data are, well, interesting. We're still pondering on them, but we should have something soon. This is quite an amazing piece of rock.

And by the way, don't infer from the fact that I'm rambling on about Opportunity that I've forgotten about Spirit. The problem with this mission is that there simply is no way you can work both rovers at once... you'd never sleep. You've got to work on one or the other, and right now I'm working on Opportunity. The story on Spirit these days is pretty simple... pedal to the metal, and head for the crater we've nicknamed Bonneville. And then we'll see what we see.

NASA/JPL/Cornell/USGS

A microscopic image of a "spherule" embedded in layers of rock at Meridiani Planum.