Thursday, March 29, 2007

Done travelling - back to Mars!

Hi everyone, my apologies for not getting back to blogging til now. Thanks for all your emails encouraging me to get back to it!

First, we had a terrific and productive season with the Antarctic Search for Meteorites (blog archive is here). The reconnaissance team collected 176 specimens and the systematic team a little less than 700. We on recce had some of the worst weather of any season, spending only part of 12 days collecting meteorites. But the ones we did get were *quality* and we're very much looking forward to finding out what they are!

Second, I've been travelling since getting back from that. All over, for Mars, the Moon, and all the planets at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference. It's been a hectic but fun month and a half, but I'm very much looking forward to being home with my partner and my cat for a good long while.

Third, what's new with our little friends Spirit and Opportunity? Fortunately for me, they kept chugging right through my time away and presented plenty of work on my return (the engineering team didn't even realize I was gone?!). Today, we are planning Opportunity's 1130th sol, still hanging out at Victoria Crater. We're all itching for the chance to go down into it, but the team exhibits restraint and has a multiple-week plan ahead addressing some safety issues and conducting some science at the rim. There are these weird dark streaks emanating from the crater's western rim that we think are basaltic sand being blown up and out of the crater. There are big sand dunes at the crater bottom, so maybe it is the same sand? It's an interesting effect and something we're going over to check out. We also have to get lots more ground-based imaging to assess things like slopes and trafficability to make sure we can get the rover out of wherever we decide to go in. I haven't spent as much time on the Spirit side since I've been back, partly because it's been so busy that there's so much more to catch up with! Spirit's been on the move pretty much nonstop since leaving Winter Haven in December, checking out many many cool rocks associated with Home Plate. The team seems to be converging on a volcanic origin, but the details still elude us and we're siccing the rover on that task.

The rim of Victoria Crater has been the site for some of the most spectacular imaging of the mission - certainy in the time I've been involved. There's beautiful layering in the crater rim and we're trying to get imagery at many points along the rim to correlate the layers around the crater and to get information on what the surface might have looked like before the crater formed. There's a breccia at the top, probably ejecta from the crater forming, followed by apparently in-place layers of bedrock varying in albedo, color, and details like crossbedding. Check out the stunning Pancam mosiacs on the Pancam web page and tell me you don't drool.

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