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A Week in the Life of Spirit the Mars Rover, and blue Rocks on the Red Planet?

By Paul Wallis     Oct 1, 2007 in Science
Spirit has entered a wonderland, and is producing some really interesting shots. Not noticeably entering a wonderland is the coverage, which really needs Carl Sagan. The Rovers need a publicist, immediately. This is too good to waste.
NASA should be raising the profile of this very significant work, particularly this piece of poetry in rock form.
Mars Daily has an article more or less lifted verbatim from the Mars Rover homepage. On this page is one of the most intriguing color shots of Mars I’ve ever seen, including some teal colored areas, and some very fine, consistent sediment layering. There’ll be geologists running around on the ceilings for years. The "wonderland" is the Columbia Hills on Mars.
The Mars Rover homepage has vast amounts of material, if you can find it. One of the reasons I’ve included the Mars Daily article is because it contains the picture, which I had trouble finding on the Mars Rover page.
You really can’t get too much of a good thing, and this is a very good thing, science making history on a second by second basis. However, if you express your news like this, it can get a little trying:
“Meanwhile, atmospheric dust levels continued to decline. Tau measurements of atmospheric opacity dropped to 1.06 on sol 1327 (Sept. 27, 2007), with a dust factor of 0.48. Spirit has been averaging 350 watt-hours per Martian day (100 watt-hours is the amount of electricity needed to light a 100-watt bulb for one hour).”
Good, informative, and nothing to do with the real item of interest, the picture. Thankfully, Mars Daily has enlargements of it. Very notable is the transparent Martian dust, making a film over the surface. That’s fascinated me since Pathfinder, when I spent about six months looking at one particular Martian rock, trying to figure out the history.
Then comes a day by day description of Spirit’s journey into the area, interesting in its way, but maddening with a brilliant, quite unexplained photo sitting there.
Maybe I better explain what’s so fascinating about the picture. You’ll see some fragmented rock, three pieces in particular. The fractures on those rocks are very revealing. They’re curved. Generally speaking rocks break in relation to their crystalline structure. Sharp angles mean they’ve sheared pretty dramatically.
But… Curved? Weathering? There are even curved shapes in the layered rock. The three rocks also have different layering to the rocks around them. In the larger photo, there are blue rocks, a nice cobalt blue. The layering of the rocks looks like a ream of paper, at an angle. The sediments are multicolored. Some of the sediment layers seem quite different to others.
Meaning an awful lot has happened to put that combination of elements together. Some of the stuff obviously isn't native to the area, or at least not to those rock formations. So on Mars, rocks move, somehow.
Mars would make a fortune if it was a jigsaw puzzle instead of a planet.
Allowing for a few vagaries of photography and interpretation, this “wonderland” is dramatic stuff. There’s enough work for anyone putting the history of this one scene together. You’ll notice Spirit’s tracks through the area: that’s another issue, the muddy tracks indicate the dust is reacting to the Rovers like nothing on Earth. Some poor soul will have to figure out how to deal with that, one day.
This little joyride has traveled about four miles since it started, and it’s worth every micrometer.
But something really has to be done about the coverage.
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