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Home Plate Continues To Mystify Mars Rover Team

file photo
by Staff Writers
Pasadena CA (SPX) Feb 14, 2006
The Mars Rover team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory continues to pore over close-up images sent back by Spirit from a tabletop-like geologic feature called Home Plate in Gusev Crater.

Spirit got its first view of Home Plate last August, after cresting Husband Hill, part of the Columbia Hills, which were named for the lost crew of the space shuttle. It took the rover 94 Martian days, or sols, to drive the 848 meters (2,782 feet, a little more than half a mile) to the formation. In all, the golf cart-sized rover has driven about four miles across the surface at Gusev.

Spirit is now studying a rock target called Barnhill, located near Home Plate, using instruments on the rover's robotic arm.

The rocks and geologic characteristics of Home Plate are like no other found by either Mars rover in the 25 months they have been rolling over the red planet. Steve Squyres, the mission's principal investigator, took time out from his hectic schedule to answer a few quick questions about the rock formation and about the overall status of the rovers:

Space Daily:
The Home Plate rocks look like a volcano had rained down debris in the middle of water-sculpted strata.

Steve Squyres:
Well, that's an interesting interpretation, but we're a long way from having an answer yet.

Does anybody on the team have any idea how such markedly different rocks could lie in such close proximity?

There are a bunch of possibilities: Impact deposits, volcanic deposits, maybe wind- or water-lain sediments. In the images we have so far, the rocks look to some of us like they might be explosive volcanic deposits, but that's purely conjecture at this point - a working hypothesis. Everything is on the table until we've gotten more data down.

The rovers seem to be impervious to the Martian environment. Are they giving any signs of breaking down, or might they still be working when the Mars Science Laboratory lands in a few years?

They are not showing signs of breaking down. They are showing definite signs of age, but all the signs of age so far are ones that we can work around. So they're still very capable vehicles.

Of course, that could change at any time. We are waaay past warranty on these vehicles, and there is no telling when they will die. It could be two years or now, or it could be tomorrow. So we treat each day as a gift.

As for the MSL, it's going to land in 2010 if all goes well, more than four years from now. If either MER rover is still alive when that happens, I will be very surprised.

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Mars Express Studies Possible Aurorae Above Mars
Paris, France (SPX) Feb 20, 2006
ESA's Mars Express spacecraft has seen more evidence that aurorae occur over the night side of Mars, especially over areas of the surface where variations in the magnetic properties of the crust have been detected. Observations from the ASPERA instrument on board ESA's Mars Express spacecraft show structures (inverted-V features) of accelerated electrons and ions above the night side of Mars that are almost identical to those that occur above aurorae on Earth.

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