The Mars Exploration Rovers have each completed their
first Mars Year (687 Earth days) and are close to completing their
second Earth year exploring their respective sites on the Red Planet.
With both Spirit and Opportunity finding new variations of bedrock
in the areas they are exploring, the mission is continuing to send the
team holiday gifts in the form of intriguing discoveries.
In its orbit around the Sun, the Red Planet has been returning
to where it was when the Mars Exploration Rovers first
landed back in January
2004, and, as the twin robot field geologists are marking the milestone
of their first Martian year -- equivalent to almost two Earth years --
fireworks are flashing all around the planet. Although the cause of the
fireworks is actually debris from Halley's comet, through which Mars is
currently passing, the timing seems so metaphorically appropriate.
The Mars Exploration Rovers science team witnessed a bit of
an expansion down here on Earth this month, while up on the Red Planet Spirit
and Opportunity continued roving along. As Halloween nears, the twin robot
geologists have put in another solid month's worth of work, overcoming every
occasional "hiccup." At this point, as Mars' orbit brings it as
close to Earth as it will get until the summer of 2018, both Spirit and Opportunity
are moving into new territories at their respective inspection sites.
I received the following question by email last week: "Do you know if the Mars rovers team has any plans to photograph Venus and Earth together in the evening sky from either rover site? They will be closest together around Sept. 29th."
Despite a few unexpected bumps and curves in their explorations
at Gusev Crater and Meridiani Planum, the Mars Exploration Rovers have
been working away and both Spirit and Opportunity have put in a very productive
month's worth of work on the Red Planet.
Spirit has returned enough pictures from the summit [summit
#1] of Husband Hill for the Mars Exploration Team to have put together
a 240-degree color panorama of her view, which they released at a news conference
today, held at NASA headquarters in Washington D.C. In coming days, the rover
will return the rest of the images to complete the full, 360-degree, color
The Mars Exploration Rovers have both encountered some truly challenging obstacles in recent days, but have also presented the team with some surprises, and continue to be in overall good health some 16 months after bouncing to a landing, and more than a year after completing their primary missions.
After more than a year of active-duty research, the Mars Exploration Rovers have caught 'second winds' -- in part because of their new, recently uploaded software and, in part -- however strange it may seem -- from the planet's notorious dust devils.