Victoria Crater unveils Mars’ wild, windy and wet past

May 22nd, 2009 - 1:26 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, May 22 (IANS) A two-year exploration of Victoria Crater on Mars by the rover Opportunity has thrown up more evidence of the red planet’s wild, windy and wet past.
Victoria Crater, half-mile wide and 250 feet deep, yielded a treasury of information about the planet’s geologic history and supported previous findings indicating that water once flowed on the planet’s surface, according to Steve Squyres.

Squyres is Cornell University professor of astronomy and the principal investigator for NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover mission. The rover is now heading south toward Endeavor crater, 8.5 miles away.

Many of those observations - of hematite spheres (”blueberries”), sulphate-rich sandstone and small chunks of rock containing kamacite, troilite and other minerals commonly found in meteorites - are consistent with Opportunity’s findings across Meridiani Planum.

“It shows that the processes that we investigated in detail for the first time at Endurance crater (where Opportunity spent six months in 2004) are regional in scale, (indicating that) the kinds of conclusions that we first reached at Endurance apply perhaps across Meridiani,” said Squyres.

Still, there are a few key differences. The rim of Victoria Crater is about 30 metres higher than the rim of Endurance, said Squyres; and as the rover drove south toward Victoria the hematite blueberries in the soil became ever fewer and smaller.

Rocks deep inside the crater, however, contained big blueberries - indicating that the rocks higher up had less interaction with water - and thus the water’s source was likely underground, said a Cornell release.

Detailed analysis of the Victoria data will occupy researchers for years to come, said Jim Bell, professor of astronomy and leader of the mission’s Pancam colour camera team.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the planet in Gusev crater, Opportunity’s twin rover Spirit caused consternation with an unexplained computer reboot in April. That problem hasn’t recurred, but the rover is now stuck, possibly belly-deep, in a patch of fine Martian soil.

“The vehicle seems to be in a unique combination of soft, sandy material and slopes that we haven’t encountered yet,” said Bell. “Neither one has been particularly problematic in the past, but the combination of the two has us bogged down.”

The overview of the findings has been published in the Friday edition of Science.

Related Stories

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Posted in Sci-Tech |