Defying all the odds, the Mars Exploration Rovers (MERs) are wrapping up 2006 in new locations and roving into their fourth Earth year of exploring the Red Planet. Spirit is slated to celebrate the milestone on January 3, 2007 Pacific Daylight Time (PDT), with Opportunity marking the milestone just 3 weeks later, on January 24, 2007.
The Mars Exploration Rovers managed to log another couple of significant milestones this month even as they worked in place, on autopilot, for the last two weeks during superior conjunction, the period that occurs every 2 years when Earth and Mars orbit into positions on opposite sides of the Sun, obscured from each other. With the conjunction now over, the rovers are slated to be back in command operation by tomorrow, All Hallow's Eve or, more popularly, Halloween.
The Mars Exploration Rovers are reaching new milestones and gaining newfound energy as winter slowly begins to pass on the Red Planet. Once again, Opportunity commanded the spotlight as it pulled up to the rim of the massive Victoria crater this week and began returning images that may redefine the word spellbinding. Twin sister, Spirit, meanwhile, is resigned to stay in its northward-tilted position for another month looking at the same scenery in order to collect the maximum energy supply for its solar panels.
The Mars Exploration Rovers, which bounced to landings in January 2004 with 90-day warranties, have survived their second winter solstice on the Red Planet and are still going strong more than two and a half years after landing.
The Mars Exploration Rovers (MER) are working right through the depths of the winter at their respective locations in Gusev Crater and Meridiani Planum. Although the twin robot field geologists are putting in short days and taking quality time to recharge, they still have team members marveling over their latest Martian finds.
The Mars Exploration Rovers (MER) are wheel deep in winter, and still faring well, working hard, and sending home interesting new finds despite the below freezing Martian temperatures. The next month or so will bring the season's coldest temperatures to the rover's present habitats, but so far, no one on the team is losing any sleep over whether or not they'll make it through, because these rovers just keep going and going . . .
The Mars Exploration Rovers are now well into their second Martian winter and, all things considered, both Spirit and Opportunity are faring pretty well for being, essentially, aging Baby Boomers on bitter cold, dusty alien planet some 50 million miles away from home.
Get used to this view of Home Plate and Husband Hill, because Spirit will be seeing a lot of it over the next 8 months, whenever power levels permit the rover to eke a little bit of science activity out of the day.
As autumn falls toward winter on the southern hemisphere of the Red Planet, the Mars Exploration Rovers are on the move again. Although the twin robot field geologists are roving as quickly as possible to their next major destinations, the pace is slowing down.
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."