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Rover's stuck RAT
A problem with the Opportunity rover's Rock Abrasion Tool is explained in detailed by JPL mission manager Chris Salvo. (4min 14sec file)
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New water clues
Spirit's examination of rock outcropping at Gusev Crater has yielded new clues about the history of water there, as explained by Doug Ming, a rover science team member from Johnson Space Center. (5min 59sec file)
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Spirit on a hill
A stunning new picture from the Mars rover Spirit taken from the hillside shows the sweeping plains of Gusev and the crater's rim on the distant horizon. Expert narration is provided by Steve Squyres, the rover lead scientist. (1min 22sec file)
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Update on Opportunity
Steve Squyres, the rover lead scientist, descibes Opportunity's ongoing work inside Endurance Crater and narrates new pictures that includes clouds moving across the Martian sky. (5min 50sec file)
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Aug. 18 Mars briefing
Scientists and mission officials explain the latest findings and exploration by the Spirit and Opportunity rovers during this news conference on August 18. (49min 40sec file)
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July 16 Mars briefing
This is the Mars Exploration Rover status briefing from July 16. (37min 18sec file)
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June 25 Mars briefing
Scientists explain the Mars rover Spirit's discovery of hematite at the Columbia Hills and Opportunity's work inside Endurance Crater during this briefing from June 25. (40min 17sec file)
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June 15 Mars briefing
Mars rover Spirit's arrival at the Columbia Hills, trouble with one of its wheels and Opportunity's descent into Endurance Crater and all of the latest pictures are presented at this briefing from June 15. (30min 27sec file)
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Ride with Opportunity
Cameras on Opportunity provides this "ride-along" view of the rover's risky drive into Endurance Crater. Expert narration by science team member Scott McLennan. (30sec file)
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Opportunity panorama
Another stunning color panorama from the Mars rover Opportunity looking into Endurance Crater and the surrounding plains is presented with expert narration by science team member Scott McLennan. (1min 30sec file)
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Spirit panorama
Spirit has generated this panorama from the base of the Columbia Hills. Expert narration is provided by science team member Larry Soderblom. (1min 15sec file)
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New Spirit pictures
New pictures from Mars rover Spirit showing the "Pot of Gold" rock area and other features are revealed with expert narration by science team member Larry Soderblom. (4min 47sec file)
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Bedrock in Mars' Gusev Crater hints at watery past
MISSION CONTROL REPORT
Posted: August 18, 2004

Now that NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit is finally examining bedrock in the "Columbia Hills," it is finding evidence that water thoroughly altered some rocks in Mars' Gusev Crater.


This approximate true-color image taken by Spirit shows a rock outcrop dubbed "Longhorn," and behind it, the sweeping plains of Gusev Crater. On the horizon, the rim of Gusev Crater is clearly visible. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell
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Spirit and its twin, Opportunity, completed successful three-month primary missions on Mars in April and are returning bonus results during extended missions. They remain in good health though beginning to show signs of wear.

On Opportunity, a tool for exposing the insides of rocks stopped working Sunday, but engineers are optimistic that the most likely diagnosis is a problem that can be fixed soon.

"It looks like there's a pebble trapped between the cutting heads of the rock abrasion tool," said Chris Salvo, rover mission manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "We think we can treat it by turning the heads in reverse, but we are still evaluating the best approach to remedy the situation. There are several options available to us."

Opportunity originally landed right beside exposed bedrock and promptly found evidence there for an ancient body of saltwater. On the other hand, it took Spirit half a year of driving across a martian plain to reach bedrock in Gusev Crater. Now, Spirit's initial inspection of an outcrop called "Clovis" on a hill about 9 meters (30 feet) above the plain suggests that water may once have been active at Gusev.

"We have evidence that interaction with liquid water changed the composition of this rock," said Dr. Steve Squyres of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., principal investigator for the science instruments on both rovers. "This is different from the rocks out on the plain, where we saw coatings and veins apparently due to effects of a small amount of water. Here, we have a more thorough, deeper alteration, suggesting much more water."


This approximate true-color image taken by Spirit shows the rock outcrop dubbed "Clovis." The rock was discovered to be softer than other rocks studied so far at Gusev Crater after the rover easily ground a hole into it with its rock abrasion tool. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell
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Squyres said, "To really understand the conditions that altered Clovis, we'd like to know what it was like before the alteration. We have the 'after.' Now we want the 'before.' If we're lucky, there may be rocks nearby that will give us that."

Dr. Doug Ming, a rover science team member from NASA's Johnson Space Center, Houston, said indications of water affecting Clovis come from analyzing the rock's surface and interior with Spirit's alpha particle X-ray spectrometer and finding relatively high levels of bromine, sulfur and chlorine inside the rock. He said, "This is also a very soft rock, not like the basaltic rocks seen back on the plains of Gusev Crater. It appears to be highly altered."

Rover team members described the golf-cart-sized robots' status and recent findings in a briefing at JPL today.

Opportunity has completed a transect through layers of rock exposed in the southern inner slope of stadium-sized "Endurance Crater." The rocks examined range from outcrops near the rim down through progressively older and older layers to the lowest accessible outcrop, called "Axel Heiberg" after a Canadian Arctic island.

"We found different compositions in different layers," said Dr. Ralf Gellert, of Max-Planck-Institut fur Chemie, Mainz, Germany. Chlorine concentration increased up to threefold in middle layers. Magnesium and sulfur declined nearly in parallel with each other in older layers, suggesting those two elements may have been dissolved and removed by water.


Opportunity's track into "Endurance Crater" is illustrated here. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell
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Small, gray stone spheres nicknamed "blueberries" are plentiful in Endurance just as they were at Opportunity's smaller landing-site crater, "Eagle." Pictures from the rover's microscopic imager show a new variation on the blueberries throughout a reddish-tan slab called "Bylot" in the Axel Heiberg outcrop.

"They're rougher textured, they vary more in size, and they're the color of the rock, instead of gray," said Zoe Learner, a science team collaborator from Cornell. "We've noticed that in some cases where these are eroding, you can see a regular blueberry or a berry fragment inside." One possibility is that a water-related process has added a coarser outer layer to the blueberries, she said, adding, "It's still really a mystery."

JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Exploration Rover project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

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Additional coverage for subscribers:
VIDEO: SPIRIT FINDS NEW CLUES ABOUT PAST WATER QT
VIDEO: NARRATED PRESENTATION OF SPIRIT PICTURE FROM HILL QT
VIDEO: OPPORTUNITY'S ROCK GRINDING TOOL IS STUCK QT
VIDEO: LEAD SCIENTIST GIVES UPDATE ON OPPORTUNITY QT
VIDEO: WATCH WEDNESDAY'S BRIEFING IN ITS ENTIRETY QT
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