[meteorite-list] Cornell Astronomers Report How Rover Spirit's Cameras Have Detected Variatiations in Martian Soil
From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Thu Aug 5 18:49:17 2004
Contact: Blaine P. Friedlander Jr.
EMBARGOED: NOT FOR RELEASE UNTIL 2 P.M. ET, THURSDAY, AUG. 5, 2004
Cornell astronomers report how rover Spirit's cameras have detected variations
in Martian soil, in Science special
ITHACA, N.Y. -- The eyes aboard the Mars rover Spirit are delivering ground truth.
After more than six months of examining the photographic and spectral data from
the rover, Mars mission scientists confirm that the albedo -- which is the
percentage of sunlight reflected on the red planet's dusty surface -- indicates
important variations in mineral and dust composition.
"Spirit landed in a medium brightness region of Gusev crater, and on this
mission has crossed into brighter and darker areas travelling to Bonneville
crater and beyond," says Jim Bell, associate professor of astronomy at Cornell
University and the lead scientist on the high-resolution, color, stereo
panoramic cameras, known as Pancams, carried by Spirit and its twin rover,
Opportunity. Says Bell, "The albedo changes that we noticed with Pancam
correlate with the changes seen from the Mars orbiters above. This is
ground-truth information." (Bonneville was the first crater the rover examined
after its landing.)
The albedo findings are detailed in a research paper, which, along with 10 other
papers resulting from Spirit's journey across the Martian surface, are published
this week in a special issue of the journal Science (Aug. 6, 2004). The issue,
in which 120 authors -- including several from Cornell -- participate, features
a 2-foot long, eight-fold poster of Pancam views of Spirit's landing site in
The issue's most prominent author is Steve Squyres, Cornell professor of
astronomy and leader of the science team on the twin-rover Mars mission. In his
overview article, Squyres notes that in its first three months of exploration
Spirit has failed to find "lacustrine" (lake-related) deposits. To date, "we
have found no evidence for lacustrine sedimentations at the Spirit landing
site," writes Squyres in his overview. However, since its landing, Spirit has
traveled nearly 2 miles, or 3 kilometers, to a hilly region dubbed Columbia
Hills, where the promise of finding water-related materials may be greater. "I
think there's a potential for a lot more in the Columbia Hills," says Squyres.
On the way to the Columbia Hills Spirit used 13 different spectral filters on
the Pancams, enabling mission scientists to obtain spectra of the ultraviolet to
infrared properties of soils and rocks.
Bell and his colleagues use the panoramic cameras to identify rocks and soil
regions for suitable analysis. "We looked to see how dusty or clean the rocks
were," Bell notes. Using Pancam photographic filters in the visual spectrum and
in the infrared, the scientists can ascertain whether a rock is worth examining.
"We use this information about the shape, size and color properties of the rocks
to find what kinds of iron-bearing minerals are present and to identify rock
candidates for further investigation with the arm instruments," he says.
The image resolution from the mast-mounted Pancams provides a 20/20 view similar
to what a person would experience on the Martian surface. This resolution is
three times higher than that recorded by the cameras on the Mars Pathfinder
mission in 1997 or the Viking landers in the mid-1970s. From 3 meters (10 feet)
away, Pancam has a resolution of 1 millimeter per pixel.
As well as looking at the ground, Spirit's Pancams have spent time looking up.
The scientists attempted to point their cameras at the sun daily and, early in
the mission, found a relatively opaque atmosphere, related to a global dust
storm in late 2003. By sol 85 (a sol, or Martian day, is equal to 24 hours, 39
minutes, 35 seconds on Earth) the dust had begun to clear, reducing the opacity
of the Martian sky. This clearing of the Martian atmosphere at Gusev crater
allowed researchers to observe the twilight development of water-ice cloud
Last week Spirit passed the 200-sol mark and it was driving up Columbia Hills
searching for bedrock that could provide evidence of having been formed in, or
altered by, liquid water. Since sol 190, Spirit has been driving backwards on
five wheels to preserve the sixth wheel's actuator, which is slowly degrading.
Bell's paper is titled "Pancam Multispectral Imaging Results from the Spirit
Rover at Gusev Crater." Squyres' overview article is titled "The Spirit Rover's
Athena Science Investigation at Gusev Crater, Mars."
Received on Thu 05 Aug 2004 06:49:09 PM PDT