Feeds

Spirit reveals Mars' violent past

As Opportunity gets stuck in the sand

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

Mars rover Opportunity has got itself stuck in a sand trap, while its twin, Spirit, has been gazing at the debris of ancient volcanic eruptions that took place when Mars was a distinctly wetter planet than it is today.

NASA scientists say that the Spirit rover has found some really interesting geology. It spent the last couple of months climbing up "Husband's Hill", the tallest in the Columbia Hills range in the Gusev Crater.

Opportunity gets stuck in the sand: NASA

Although the rover has been close enough to the ground to take interesting samples, and send back close-up images, it was hard to get a sense of the overall picture, NASA scientists say, particularly because the layering of the rocks closely matched the slope of the hill Spirit was climbing.

However, now that Spirit has turned around an is looking back on its progress, the whole picture is starting to fall into place. "Looking back downhill, you can see the layering, and it suddenly starts to makes sense," said NASA's principal investigator, Dr. Steven Squyres.

Spirit's examination of rocks has revealed that some contain the mineral Ilmenite, a titanium-iron oxide formed during the crystallisation of magma. It also found that the textures of the rocks vary greatly at different layers - some areas have very fine details visible only to Spirit's microscopic imager. Others are clumpy, like grains all stuck together. Still others are massive rocks, with very little fine detail.

"Our best hypothesis is we're looking at a stack of ash or debris that was explosively erupted from volcanoes and settled down in different ways," Squyres said.

"We can't fully rule out the possibility the debris was generated in impact explosions instead of volcanic ones. But we can say, once upon a time, [the Gusev Crater] was a pretty violent place. Big, explosive events were happening, and there was a lot of water around," he went on.

Opportunity, meanwhile, has been stuck in a ripple-shaped sand dune for a little over three weeks, NASA says. The rover has managed to dig its way forward just 11 inches in that time. If it had been trundling freely across the planet's surface, it would have travelled around 157 feet.

If it does manage to get itself free, it will be put to work examining the ripple to try to find out why it was such a problem. The rover has traversed several other ripples in the windblown Meridiani plains, and NASA researchers are curious as to why this one has it stumped.

You can see Spirit's view back down Husband Hill here. ®

Related stories

Missing Mars lander shows up in old pics
Another 18 months for Mars rovers
Dust devils spring clean Martian rover

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
MARS NEEDS WOMEN, claims NASA pseudo 'naut: They eat less
'Some might find this idea offensive' boffin admits
LOHAN crash lands on CNN
Overflies Die Welt en route to lively US news vid
Comet Siding Spring revealed as flying molehill
Hiding from this space pimple isn't going to do humanity's reputation any good
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
No sail: NASA spikes Sunjammer
'Solar sail' demonstrator project binned
Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody
Cringeworthy, crude and crass jokes abound in Steven Erikson’s sci-fi debut
Origins of SEXUAL INTERCOURSE fished out of SCOTTISH LAKE
Fossil find proves it first happened 385 million years ago
Human spacecraft dodge COMET CHUNKS pelting off Mars
Odyssey orbiter yet to report, though - comet's trailing trash poses new threat
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.