I'm spending my last days on Mars for a while this week as I prepare to heard to Antarctica this Saturday! You can follow the exploits of the Antarctic Search for Meteorites over at the ANSMET weblog.
Just as I'm leaving, things are warming up in the Inner Basin and Spirit is getting the chance to stretch a little and look at some of the rocks and soil targets around her. She's looking at the white soil the wheels churned up on the way to where she is now. The white soils usually mean some kind of salt, and that usually means involvement of water. We're also looking at a rock layer that protrudes from Low Ridge like a fin. You can floow it all along the ridge to the rover. We tried to get the rover to move to break a piece off, but the sandy area where we are prevented the rover from doing that. Next week, we hope to actually drive a couple of meters to a basaltic rock and do a nice campaign there, looking at the vesicles (holes caused by escaping gas) in the rock and a detailed chemical analysis to see if these kinds of rocks are related to Home Plate. Then, it'll be off to Home Plate itself, a tantalizing feature we only zipped past last fall.
Opportunity has begun circumnavigating Victoria Crater, and every day there's a new, breathtaking vista. The team hasn't yet decided how far to go or when to try to go into the crater, so it's difficult for me to leave now knowing Opportunity could dive in at any time!
While you're missing me on this blog, keep up on what the rovers are doing through Steve Squyres' mission update, sites by passionate amateurs: MartianSoil, Mars Rover Blog and MarsGeo, and of course, the latest images direct from Mars are easily accessible from the Exploratorium web pages.
For other burning questions about all things planetary, spend some time at Planetary Science Research Discoveries, a fantastic site with very readable articles about current science.
Happy Holidays, everyone, and see you in February!