I've gotten this question about once a week since Spirit got stuck, but yesterday, two different readers asked the same question within an hour of each other, so I figured it was time for a blog entry.
My inbox was exploding this morning with messages about a tremendously cool animation released this morning by ESA's Mars Express team. It shows Phobos crossing Deimos, in what's known as a "mutual event."
The Mars Exploration Rovers managed to make history and uncover history in November and that put both Spirit and Opportunity in the planetary exploration spotlight during the 71st month of an overland expedition that was supposed to be a three-month tour.
Even though all of us rover fans know that Spirit is really, really stuck, I think I'm not the only one who was secretly hoping that today's images downlinked from Spirit would show that the rover had magically popped out of the ground overnight. Of course, she didn't.
Since A. J. S. Rayl was also listening in on today's press briefing about the efforts to extricate Spirit from her predicament at Troy, I'll just hit the high points and send you over to her story when she has posted it.
On Monday, November 16, 2009, Mars Exploration Rover Spirit will begin the much-anticipated, weeks-long process of extricating itself from a patch of powdery soil that stopped it in its tracks six months ago. It will begin by driving forward to the north, following its tracks out, even though its right front wheel is broken and immobilized.
The Mars Exploration Rover mission logged another textbook-rewriting month in October 2009 with more discoveries of geologic gems, new robot achievements balanced with equal amounts of challenges and frustrations overcome, topped off with special honors.
From notable achievements and new discoveries to trials and tribulations and harbingers of hope, the Mars Exploration Rovers seemed to experience the gamut on the Red Planet this September, their 69th month on an expedition that originally set out back in 2004 for a three-month tour.
Doug Ellison has done it again: he's created a spectacular overflight of Gusev crater based upon digital elevation models of the terrain produced by the United States Geological Survey from HiRISE data.
For a while, Mars was beating Spirit while she was down, throwing a dust storm at the rover where it's bogged up to its hubcaps in fluffy soil When lots of dust is lofted into the sky, the hazard is that when it comes down, it may come down on the rover and its solar panels. But it appears things on Spirit are still pretty clean.
The Mars Exploration Rovers hunkered down in place in August and delivered more mission "gold" as they achieved new milestones and uncovered more scientific gems, not the least of which was a blockbuster of a meteorite. But August proved to be a stormy month, uniquely challenging and one that many on the Mars Exploration Team will never forget.
"Third anniversary?" some of you may be asking. "Hasn't it been more like five years since Spirit landed?" Five Earth years, yes. But today is the third anniversary of the landing, measured in Mars years.
While Spirit has been stuck at Troy, it's been taking numerous opportunities to capture photos with dramatic twilight lighting. On sol 2,002 (three sols ago, or August 21), it gazed toward the setting Sun, snapping the shutter roughly once a minute.
The Mars Exploration Rovers maintained a busy schedule in July: Spirit worked day and night doing whatever it could to make use of its abundant energy; Opportunity effectively treated its “hot” right front wheel and got back to making some consecutive long drives toward the still distant Endeavour Crater.
It's been a relatively quiet but scientifically significant month on the Red Planet for the Mars Exploration Rovers. While Opportunity continued its long journey to Endeavour Crater, forced to take it slower and make longer stops to rest its 'hot' front wheel, Spirit, seemingly just biding its time embedded in a sand pit it slipped into in April, turned up one of the most intriguing discoveries on the mission to date.
The Mars Exploration Rovers hit some rough patches in May as Spirit sat stuck in a sand patch all month and Opportunity had to stop again to rest its right front wheel but with a little help from Mars, the intrepid, twin robot field geologists cruised through the summer solstice with the energy and invincibility of a couple of teenage robots.