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This just in...

March 2004

March 24, 2004

We just announced another big finding at Meridiani: We think that the rocks there were deposited in liquid water.

This finding is fundamentally different from what we announced three weeks ago. It's the difference between water you could draw from a well and water you could swim in. Last time, we had evidence that water had once seeped through the rock, changing its chemistry and its texture. This time, we think we see telltale signs suggesting that the rock was originally laid down in gently flowing liquid water.

This one didn't come easy. Several weeks ago, as we looked at the outcrop, we thought we were seeing what geologists call "cross bedding". Cross bedding means seeing layers in the rock that aren't parallel to one another, and cross bedding in a rock generally means that it was deposited in a flowing fluid. Either air (wind) or water (currents) can be the fluid. On earth, it turns out that there are some kinds of cross bedding that only form in liquid water... wind won't do it. We thought that that was what we were seeing in some of the Pancam images of the Meridiani outcrop. Maybe.

With even Pancam images not being sharp enough to resolve the problem, we turned to the only higher-resolution camera
we have: the Microscopic Imager. Back when we built the MI, we really only envisioned using it to image areas a few centimeters across. In fact, the field of view of the camera is only 3 cm wide. But here we had a problem where we needed ultra high-resolution images of rocks that were much, much bigger than an MI field of view. So we did something that we had really never envisioned doing...
we took some big image mosaics with the MI. There was one
rock called "Last Chance" that we took 152 images of! This
was a remarkable feat of robotic imaging, and Ken Herkenhoff, Eric Baumgartner, and a whole bunch of other people too numerous to name deserve enormous credit for pulling it off. (And hats off too to the good folks at ASI, who built us one heck of an arm.) Anyway, the whole thing paid off. The MI mosaics nailed the problem, showing us features in the rock that look like the distinctive signature of ripples formed in flowing water.

What are we going to do for our next trick? I have no idea. This whole thing has turned out to be such a surprise that I wouldn't dare guess what we're going to see next. The plan for Opportunity now is to crawl out of Eagle crater (which we've just done), and head 700 meters across the countryside to Endurance crater, which is much bigger and wilder-looking than Eagle. And then we'll see what we see.

Meanwhile, Spirit is way out ahead of Opportunity, distance-wise, working her way now along the rim of Bonneville crater. We haven't found any compelling evidence of water at Bonneville yet, but there's been some fantastic geology there... and the Columbia Hills beckon.

March 4, 2004

Sorry it's been so long since I've done one of these updates! The story of the Meridiani outcrop has grown very interesting, and it has taken up much of my time and attention.   more...

February 2004

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, we saw some very strange things.    more...

February 2, 2004

So now it really begins in earnest. Opportunity has been cranking away for several sols now, and as of yesterday Spirit is back up and running too. So now, for the first time, we have two rovers with twelve wheels in the dirt, both doing science.    more...

January 2004

January 31, 2004

What a wonderful day. We now have twelve wheels safely on martian soil. I've said since the very beginning of this thing that there were six terrifying events over the course of this mission...   more...

January 29, 2004

We're back on track now, after getting a pretty serious scare from Spirit. Spirit's problems seem to have been caused by little more than a fouled-up computer file system... not too different from what can happen when you hit the power button on your computer accidentally and corrupt a bunch of files on your hard drive. The JPL flight software team is hot on the trail of this thing now, and I'm hoping that Spirit will make a full recovery...   more...

January 22, 2004

We've just hit the first significant bump in the road since Spirit landed...   more...

January 15, 2004

We've done it. Spirit is on Mars. We've got six wheels in the dirt now, and we're ready to roll.   more...

January 12, 2004

We're almost there... just one cable-cut away from being a free-wheelin' machine. Spirit is now fully stood up, with every last hardware deployment done. The solar arrays are out, the mast is up, the antenna is free, the arm is released, and all six wheels are cut free from the lander. The one and only thing tying us to the lander now is a single electrical cable...   more...

January 9, 2004

Wow, what a sol! We just finished up Sol 5, and from a science standpoint it was maybe the best one yet. It's 9:30 PM in Gusev crater as I write this (at 6:00 AM in Pasadena), and Spirit is sleeping soundly. We got a ton of new Pancam data down today, but the big news is that we've got the first batch of Mini-TES data processed now.    more...

January 5, 2004

What an amazing couple of days! Spirit is alive and well in Gusev crater. We're going into our second night on the surface as I write this...   more...

January 4, 2004

We're down! Spirit touched down in Gusev Crater this evening...   more...