A Dusty Sunset

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The Spirit rover, still mired in the soft sand, recently took a series of photos showing the sun setting into a dusty Martian sky. I combined the raw images here to create a short animation.

Yes, Spirit is still stuck near Home Plate. Its power levels are good but the rover team has not tried to move it yet from its position, instead using identical rovers set up in a sandbox at the JPL headquarters in Pasadena to try to figure out the best way to extricate it, so as not to complicate the situation on Mars further with miscalculations. The process is more difficult than it sounds…conditions on Mars, although appearing similar to terrestrial locations, are nevertheless very different:

“There is no perfect Earth analog for Spirit’s current situation,” says John Callas, project manager for the Mars Exploration Rovers. “There’s less gravity on Mars, little atmosphere, and no moisture in the soil where Spirit is. It is not anything like being stuck in sand or snow or mud on Earth. Plus, since the rover moves only about as fast as a tortoise, you cannot use momentum to help. No rocking back and forth as you might do on Earth.”

Spirit hasn’t been just sitting there waiting for help, though. It’s been busy investigating the area immediately around it, performing rock and soil tests with its on-board spectrometer and Rock Abrasion Tool and, obviously, sending back lots of image data.

Although immobile, Spirit has recently passed a milestone: its 2,000th Martian day of work on the planet. The mission was originally only intended to last 90 days but both rovers have been very adamant about not retiring.

Read more about Spirit’s extrication process here.

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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