I'm returning to the deep dive into the literature that began with articles about lunar basins and then explored the geologic time scales of Earth, Moon, and Mars. Now it's time to catch up to the last decade of Mars research and learn what "phyllosian", "theiikian", and "siderikian" eras are.
Doug Ellison shared this lovely panorama via Twitter over the weekend. It's from the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit, taken back in 2004. The drunken path in the foreground is a visual record of just how exciting it was for Spirit to have finally made it to the Columbia Hills, and to rocks that were not fragments of basalt.
Join Emily Lakdawalla and Casey Dreier for a chat with Jim Bell, a scientist who wears many hats. He's the team lead for the Pancam color cameras on the Spirit and Opportunity rovers; he's a member of the Curiosity science team; and he's the esteemed President of the Planetary Society's Board of Directors. We'll talk about the great science being done by both Curiosity and Opportunity, and about what's in store for the future.
As I was beginning my research for my two magazine articles on the Curiosity rover's upcoming mission to Mars, I needed to figure out for myself how exactly this gigantic, ungainly machine fit in to the context of past Martian missions.
While doing my daily reading today I was struck by the awesomeness of two recent blog posts. Both were composed not by professional bloggers like me but by professional space explorers, one a scientist and the other an engineer.
Opportunity seemed to sail with the wind behind her back toward the western rim of Endeavour Crater this month as the Mars Exploration Rover team shifted gears in preparation for a whole new adventure, taking time out only to bid a final farewell both privately and publicly to Spirit.
Opportunity 'burned up' the Meridiani Plains in June as it raced toward its much-anticipated next destination and the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) mission cruised into the 90th month of what was originally to have been a 90-day tour.
The Mars Exploration mission suffered the loss of Spirit and shifted to one-rover operations in May, but Opportunity carried on, blasting across the plains of Meridiani to within 2 miles (3.5 kilometers) of its next major destination and discovery.
The intensified effort to recover Mars Exploration Rover (MER) Spirit came to an end early Wednesday morning Pacific time and NASA has now transitioned the mission to a single-rover operation focused on Spirit's still-active twin, Opportunity.
Yesterday, I remarked that despite the declaration of her death we'll be seeing Spirit frequently over the next few years, as long as Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is still monitoring her landing site with its HiRISE camera. I said that Spirit is a lump that's relatively easy to spot because of her dark shadow. Well, Spirit's managed to make herself even easier to spot than that.
Alicia Chang reported today that, according to project manager John Callas, the last attempt to uplink a command to the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit will be made tomorrow. NASA will cease listening for signals from Spirit on Tuesday.
As Opportunity drove her little robot heart out, breaking the 28-kilometer mark on her odometer, and driving the longest backward drive ever, April proved to be another month of exhilarating highs for the Mars Exploration Rover mission and one extended low with only silence from Spirit, despite intensified efforts by her Earth crew to establish contact.
April 2011 will see MESSENGER begin the science phase of its orbital mission at Mercury, and should, I think, also see the start of Dawn's approach observations of Vesta. At Mars, Opportunity is back on the road again, rolling inexorably toward Endeavour. At Saturn, Cassini will continue its focus on Saturn and Titan science.
The Mars Exploration Rover mission experienced a month of highs tempered by one haunting low as it neared completion of its 87th month of a three-month tour this month. While Opportunity wrapped up its work at the youngest, freshest crater the rovers have explored to date, Spirit remained silent as the point of maximum sunshine for the Martian year came and went, further dimming once high hopes that the rover would phone home and rove on as summer settled on the southern hemisphere of Mars.
Wednesday morning included some interesting conversations. Notably, I spoke with Pamela Gay, who is responsible for the MoonZoo citizen science program and who is presently working on developing a site through which the public will be able to help search for potential Kuiper belt objects for the New Horizons mission to encounter after the Pluto flyby.