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Spirit Serendipity: Stuck Rover Stumbles Upon Evidence of Water

November 1st, 2010 11:12 admin Leave a comment Go to comments

"SpiritWater" src=
alt="SpiritWater" width="425" height="232" align="right" /> "_self">Spirit just can’t help itself. Even stuck in a
sand trap from which it will never escape, the Mars rover finds
clues that reveal more about the nature of Mars and the water cycle
on the Red Planet.

It was earlier this year that target="_self">NASA gave up on freeing Spirit: With a broken
wheel, the rover simply could not extricate itself from the loose
terrain that ensnares it. But as the rover team drove Spirit back
and forth, it dug deeper and deeper into the Martian ground. Says
team member Ray Arvidson:

“We’re driving
backwards, the right front wheel doesn’t work, so wherever we
went we had to drag it along. It’s like pushing a shopping
cart with a bad front wheel. You don’t push it, you pull it,
but the wheel has torque.” [ target="_self">Discovery News]

Eventually Spirit broke through the
crust, where a bit of luck struck. Before the rover lost
communication with Earth, it beamed back enough information to show
that the makeup of the soil beneath Spirit suggests that water was
there—and not too long ago, either. The Spirit
team just published a target="_self">study about it in the Journal of Geophysical

The newly exposed surface layers
include minerals thought to be hematite, silica and gypsum, which
don’t dissolve easily in water. But layers of
iron sulfate minerals, which do dissolve easily, lie centimeters
below the crust. These layers suggest water, maybe in the form of
frost or snow, seeped into the ground relatively recently and
carried the soluble minerals deeper into the soil. The seepage
could have happened during cycles in Mars’
history when the planet tilted further on its axis. [ target="_self">Wired.com]

Furthermore, the team argues, the neat layering suggests that
the deposition happened fairly recently, within a few hundred
thousand years or so. Otherwise Mars’ howling winds would
have had the chance to erode it away.

“Once you freeze that evidence
in a rock, it can stay there for a long time,” said Bruce
Banerdt, a project scientist for the Mars Exploration Rovers
project at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena,
Calif. “But you don’t expect to maintain evidence in
loose dirt for long periods of time.” [ target="_self">MSNBC]

With the staggering success of the target="_self">Mars Phoenix Lander and both of the rovers,
NASA’s target="_self">next Mars wanderer can’t come fast

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell University

Source: Spirit Serendipity: Stuck Rover Stumbles Upon Evidence of Water

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