Dust storms are beginning to whirl around Mars as spring blooms in the southern hemisphere of the planet and along the equator where the Mars Exploration Rovers (MERs) are roving into their fourth year with a second banner month of exploration.
It's been business as usual on the Red Planet this month as the Mars Exploration Rovers investigated new areas on their ever-moving missions to explore Gusev Crater and Meridiani Planum. Both Spirit and Opportunity chalked up yet another productive month of field geology as they roved onward in their fourth year on location, checking out more of the local environs some 149,597,900 kilometers (93 million miles) away on Earthlings' favored other planet.
The Mars Exploration Rovers (MERs) traveled to new targets and made discoveries ranging from the magnificent to the mundane in April, four fast weeks that essentially led both of the twin robot field geologists to the next phase of their explorations.
The Mars Exploration Rovers (MERs) spent the month of June finishing work and clearing their agendas at their respective locales at Gusev Crater and Meridiani Planum in preparation for highly anticipated new assignments in July.
It was to be a Martian summer to remember. Just one month ago, the Mars Exploration Rovers were set to embark on long-awaited adventures. At Meridiani Planum, Opportunity was preparing for its grand entrance into the magnificent Victoria Crater and on the other side of the planet Spirit was finally going to explore the top of Home Plate, an old, intriguing volcanic formation in the Gusev Crater area. Then a series of dust storms hit suddenly, it was a Martian summer to remember alright, but for far different, windswept reasons.
With dust from the summer's storms floating down on and all around them, the Mars Exploration Rovers returned to their exploration agendas this month, picking up right where they left off in July when winds kicked the soils up into the southern hemisphere and forced them to hunker down and conserve power.
It might not be the stuff of Broadway musicals, but the Sun and did "come out tomorrow" on Mars. Just eight weeks after dust from severe storms darkened the Martian skies and threatened their solar-powered lives, the Mars Exploration Rovers finished dusting off as much as possible and took off on their long-anticipated expeditions this month, with Spirit roving onto an old volcanic formation called Home Plate and Opportunity cruising into Victoria Crater.
Nail-biting drama and the inevitable signs of aging marked the month of November for the Mars Exploration Rovers, with Spirit accidentally encountering Tartarus, a dust-filled crater, on its way to its winter haven and having to thrash for its life, and Opportunity spending a lot of its time conducting tests on its RAT (rock abrasion tool), which lost another encoder.
The mission was only supposed to last three months, maybe six months if all went well, but the Mars Exploration Rovers surprised everyone. Demonstrating an uncanny kind of "robot right stuff," they roved far beyond what anyone dreamed and now, in a matter of days, Spirit and Opportunity will celebrate their 4th birthdays and rove into their fifth year of exploring the Red Planet.
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