NASA's Durable Spirit Sends Intriguing New Images From Mars

September 2, 2005
NASA's Durable Spirit Sends Intriguing New Images From Mars

Working atop a range of Martian hills, NASA's Spirit rover is rewarding researchers with tempting scenes filled with evidence of past planet environments.
"When the images came down and we could see horizon all the way around, that was every bit as exhilarating as getting to the top of any mountain I've climbed on Earth," said Chris Leger, a rover planner at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Image: This mini-panorama was taken by Spirit on Aug. 23, 2005, just as the rover completed its intrepid climb up "Husband Hill."

The summit sits 82 meters (269 feet) above the edge of the surrounding plains. It is 106 meters (348 feet) higher than the site where Spirit landed nearly 20 months ago. Spirit and twin rover, Opportunity, successfully completed their three-month prime missions in April 2004. They have inspected dozens of rocks and soil targets since then, continuing their pursuit of geological evidence about formerly wet conditions on Mars.

"Spirit has climbed to the hilltop and looked over the other side, but NASA did not do this just to say we can do it. The Mars rovers are addressing fundamental questions about Martian history and planetary environments," said NASA's Mars Exploration Program Director Doug McCuistion.

The crest of "Husband Hill" offers Spirit's views of possible routes into a basin to the south with apparently layered outcrops. Shortly after Spirit landed, it observed a cluster of seven hills about 3 kilometers (2 miles) east of its landing site. NASA proposed naming the range "Columbia Hills" in tribute to the last crew of Space Shuttle Columbia. The tallest of the hills commemorates Rick Husband, Columbia's commander.

Volcanic rocks covering the plain Spirit crossed on its way to the hills bore evidence of only slight alteration by water. When Spirit reached the base of the hills five months after landing, it immediately began finding rocks with wetter histories.

"This climb was motivated by science," said Steve Squyres of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y. Squyres is principal investigator for the rovers' science instruments. "Every time Spirit has gained altitude, we've found different rock types. Also, we're doing what any field geologist would do in an area like this: climbing to a good vantage point for plotting a route."

Researchers are viewing possible routes south to apparently layered ledges and to a feature dubbed "home plate," which might be a plateau of older rock or a filled-in crater.

The landing site and the Columbia Hills are within Gusev Crater, a bowl about 150 kilometers (95 miles) in diameter. The crater was selected as the landing site for the Spirit rover because the shape of the terrain suggests the crater once held a lake. Volcanic deposits appear to have covered any sign of ancient lakebed geology out on the plain, but scientists say the hills expose older layers that have been lifted and tipped by a meteorite impact or other event.

"We're finding abundant evidence for alteration of rocks in a water environment," said Ray Arvidson of Washington University, St. Louis, Mo. Arvidson is deputy principal investigator for the rovers' science instruments. "What we want to do is figure out which layers were on top of which other layers. To do that it has been helpful to keep climbing for good views of how the layers are tilted to varying degrees. Understanding the sequence of layers is equivalent to having a deep drill core from drilling beneath the plains."

Both Spirit and Opportunity have been extremely successful. Their solar panels are generating plenty of energy thanks to repeated dust-cleaning events. Spirit has driven 4,827 meters (3.00 miles), and Opportunity 5,737 meters (3.56 miles).

Source: NASA

Explore further: Spirit Begins Downhill Drive

Related Stories

Spirit Begins Downhill Drive

October 25, 2005

Spirit is healthy and has begun driving downhill from the top of "Husband Hill" toward the south basin. Elevation maps produced from the panoramic camera imagery taken at and near the summit of Husband Hill showed a safe ...

Mars Rover Team Plays It Safes With Spirit

March 6, 2006

NASA's Spirit recorded this view while approaching the northwestern edge of the formation Mars Exploration Rover mission controllers have named Home Plate, a circular plateau-like area of bright, layered outcrop material ...

Spirit Nears Home Plate

February 7, 2006

Spirit continues to make progress toward "Home Plate," a conspicuous circular feature scientists hope to investigate before the Martian winter, in search of layered rock outcrops that may provide additional information about ...

Water on Mars: More Evidences

August 22, 2004

NASA's twin robot geologists, the Mars Exploration Rovers, launched toward Mars on June 10 and July 7, 2003, in search of answers about the history of water on Mars. Now that NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit is finally ...

Decade-old rover adventure continues on Mars and Earth

January 6, 2014

( —Eighth graders didn't have Facebook or Twitter to share news back then, in January 2004. Bekah Sosland, 14 at the time, learned about a NASA rover landing on Mars when the bouncing-ball video on the next morning's ...

Mars Rovers Get New Manager During Challenging Period

March 20, 2006

NASA's long-lived Mars rovers demand lots of care as they age and the Martian winter approaches. Dr. John Callas, newly named project manager for NASA's Mars Exploration Rover mission, is coordinating the work to meet these ...

Recommended for you

Horn of Africa drying ever faster as climate warms

October 9, 2015

The Horn of Africa has become increasingly arid in sync with the global and regional warming of the last century and at a rate unprecedented in the last 2,000 years, according to new research led by a University of Arizona ...

Scientists paint quantum electronics with beams of light

October 9, 2015

A team of scientists from the University of Chicago and the Pennsylvania State University have accidentally discovered a new way of using light to draw and erase quantum-mechanical circuits in a unique class of materials ...

What are white holes?

October 9, 2015

Black holes are created when stars die catastrophically in a supernova. So what in the universe is a white hole?

Could 'The Day After Tomorrow' happen?

October 9, 2015

A researcher from the University of Southampton has produced a scientific study of the climate scenario featured in the disaster movie 'The Day After Tomorrow'.

A mission to a metal world—The Psyche mission

October 9, 2015

In their drive to set exploration goals for the future, NASA's Discovery Program put out the call for proposals for their thirteenth Discovery mission in February 2014. After reviewing the 27 initial proposals, a panel of ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.