January 20, 2005

Mars Rovers Continue Mission

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The red planet rover Opportunity has come across a basketball-size meteorite, Prof. Steve Squyres Ph.D.’78, astronomy, announced last week. The discovery comes almost a full year after the rover landed on Mars, last Jan. 24. Its twin rover, Spirit, landed on the other side of Mars on Jan. 3, 2004. NASA had said the expected life expectancy of the robots was about 90 days each; Squyres himself had said the robots would last 120 days “at most.”

Opportunity’s latest discovery is important because it allows scientists to deduce information about martian wind patterns and the planet’s climate.

“Whether you’re seeing a net accumulation or a net burial of the meteorites is going to tell you something about what the erosion or deposition rates are out on the plains,” Squyres told the Associated Press.

Opportunity first spied the rock when it went to inspect the wreckage of its discarded heat shielding, which came off during the rover’s landing. The meteorite has since been nicknamed “Heat Shield Rock.”

Buzz about Heat Shield Rock had been growing for the better part of a week before the official announcement, as professional scientists and rover junkies noted its unusual shape and similarity to many terrestrial meteorites. The rover used its on-board M