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10 Years On Mars: What Spirit & Opportunity Discovered

NASA's twin rovers have spent a decade on the red planet, using their scientific instruments and engineering cameras to explore rocks and soil.
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(Source: NASA)
(Source: NASA)

A decade ago, a desert-like planet received two visitors that would later make important scientific discoveries and inspire a new generation of exploration rovers. This month marks the 10-year anniversary of Spirit and Opportunity, which landed on Mars in January 2004.

Spirit arrived at the Red Planet on January 3, 2004, carrying six science instruments, along with engineering cameras. Opportunity, Spirit's twin, landed on Mars on January 24, 2004, with the same payload of instruments.

It was originally planned to be a very short mission, and it's still going strong today. "We shouldn't be here. The rovers weren't supposed to last more than three months," Mars Exploration Rover (MER) driver Ashley Stroupe said during the mission's anniversary event at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) on January 16.

While Opportunity continues to explore Mars, Spirit's mission ended in March 2010 after it ceased to communicate with Earth. Opportunity has beamed back 187,000 raw images of the planet so far, and Spirit produced 128,000 raw images during its time on Mars. Each rover is equipped with a Pancam, a high-resolution color stereo pair of CCD cameras used to photograph the surface and sky of Mars, and a Microscopic Imager, which combines a microscope and a CCD camera to capture data on the small-scale features of Martian rocks and soils. The rovers also have advanced communication capabilities to communicate with orbiting probes and directly with Earth.

Years of Mars exploration has paved the way for a new and improved generation of rovers. "Since the landings of Spirit and Opportunity, we have maintained an active continuous presence on Mars. Now we begin the second decade of that exploration," John Callas, project manager of the MER project, said during the January 16 event.

Compared to its predecessors, Curiosity -- which successfully landed on Mars on August 6, 2012 -- has 10 science instruments, in addition to engineering cameras and sample-collection tools. Curiosity is twice as long and five times as heavy as Spirit and Opportunity. Many of the design elements were inherited from the twin rovers, but Curiosity is the only one with the ability to gather samples of rocks and soil, process them, and distribute them to test chambers onboard.

NASA plans to continue its quest for signs of past life on the red planet with the next Mars rover due to launch in 2020. That rover is expected to look a lot like Curiosity, but it will carry new science instruments that can acquire data quickly and that minimize power consumption. NASA is also looking to equip the rover with technology that has low operational complexity and doesn't require intervention from an operator.

As Opportunity nears its 10-year mark on Mars, take a look at the highlights from its mission, along with some discoveries made by Spirit.

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Susan Fourtané
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Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Ninja
1/31/2014 | 11:53:37 PM
Martian blueberries
"While driving on Mars, Opportunity came upon what looks like blueberries scattered on the ground. The rover had discovered clay minerals along an area called Endeavour's rim. The minerals got their bluish color from iron-rich spherules, and they likely formed when water was present."

Has NASA, or anyone else, thought of growing ceratain berries on Mars as they only grow in extreme cold weathers on Earth like in Northern Europe? 

-Susan
Susan Fourtané
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Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Ninja
1/31/2014 | 11:41:07 PM
The Netherlands works on Mars One
The Netherlands is working on Mars One, a project that aims for the first human settlement on Mars by the year 2023. 

How many more decades of rock collection and picture taken does NASA need to move on to the next level? 

-Susan
WKash
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WKash,
User Rank: Author
1/24/2014 | 5:01:37 PM
How technology changes
Interesting to note the CPU power of the rovers 10 years ago, compared to what's on our phones today.

The on-barod computers reportedly include 256 KB of  Electrically Erasable Programmable Read-Only Memory,  256 MB of DRAM and 2GB of flash memory.

 
zyanna
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zyanna,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/24/2014 | 4:32:04 PM
Re: Any Life on Mars Came from Earth!
Um, no. Volcanic eruptions reach temperatures up to 1200 degrees C. Any rocks or dirt thrown up in the explosion would be sterilized. Volcanic clouds can reach heights of 40 km, but eventually they stop rising because the density of the volcanic debris is greater than that of the surrounding atmosphere. However, all that pales in comparison to your biggest error. If only God can create life then only God can put life on Mars!

By the way, I was also in Who's Who, namely "Who's Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges." Two of my bosses have been in Who's Who. I bet half the people who read this website are in some form of Who's Who.

 
cbabcock
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cbabcock,
User Rank: Strategist
1/24/2014 | 4:22:17 PM
"Mars keeps throwing stuff at us"
Ars Technica just reported that the Mars Rover had photographed a stone in its immediately vicinity that wasn't in the same space 12 (Martian) days earlier. It's showing its bottom side and looks like a jelly donut, with a reddish spot in the center. It could have come from some geological action but most likely was flipped out of its position, where it had been resting for several billion years, by passage of the Rover's wheels. A steering actuator that turns a wheel left or right is broken on Opportunity. When the vehicle turns, the wheel skids along the surface, possibly kicking up debris. "Mars keeps throwing stuff at us," said lead Rover scientist Steve Squyres of Cornell at a Rover anniversary event last week.
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
1/24/2014 | 4:19:50 PM
Rovers are great but...
...nothing beats the drama of sending people. I hope the US can scrape the money together to sent human astronauts.
anon3464851559
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anon3464851559,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/24/2014 | 3:18:46 PM
so who created the universe?
I imagine you are saying somebody named Jesus created univesrs... was God, the Father... then The Son, and somewhere in beyween holy spirit.

WOULD YOU CLACULATE THE PROBABILITY OF THAT HAPPENING?
anon3464851559
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anon3464851559,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/24/2014 | 3:17:06 PM
so who created the universe?
I imagine you are saying somebody named Jesus created univesrs... was God, the Father... then The Son, and somewhere in beyween holy spirit.

WOULD YOU CLACULATE THE PROBABILITY OF THAT HAPPENING?
anon4554245973
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anon4554245973,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/24/2014 | 3:09:12 PM
Re: Any Life on Mars Came from Earth!
No, just no..
anon8276525582
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anon8276525582,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/24/2014 | 2:39:58 PM
Re: Any Life on Mars Came from Earth!
@BabuR162:  What you seem to be suggesting is that if the mathematics is correct then life originated by divine intervention.  Please suggest an experiment whereby the divinity or divinities can be discovered.  Be very, very specific in laying out the procedure since we sincerely want the experiment to succeed.
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