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Mars Pathfinder Science Results

Pathfinder investigated the dust in the atmosphere of Mars by observing its deposition on a series of magnetic targets on the spacecraft. The dust, it turned out, is highly magnetic. It may consist of small silicate (perhaps clay) particles, with some stain or cement of a highly magnetic mineral known as maghemite. This, too, is consistent with a watery past. The iron may have dissolved out of crustal materials in water, and the maghemite may be a freeze-dried precipitate.


This composite image shows particles adhering to magnetic target arrays on the Pathfinder lander. Each array consists of five magnets that increase in magnetic filed strength as seen from left to right. The red material forming a bulls-eye pattern on the arrays is magnetic Martian dust deposited from the atmosphere. An increase in magnetic dust deposition from Sol 10 to Sol 66 is clearly evident. By analyzing the patterns of dust on the various magnets, scientists are able to measure the dusts' magnetic strength and infer its composition.


The upper two images show the lower magnetic properties targets on sols 6 and 13. The lower image shows the upper magnetic target on sol 26. It is clear that the patterns of dust have developed with time. For more information on the background on this experiment, please visit the team's homepage at

Magnetic properties experiment

Magnetic properties experiment - Magnet arrays (440 nm)

magnets_sol_26.jpg (109K)

The Mars Pathfinder Magnetic Properties Experiment primarily involves an array of permanent magnets on the lander. The magnets are assembled to produce a bulls-eye pattern of attracted dust using an outer annular ring magnet, 18mm in diameter, surrounding a central cylindrical magnet. In each of two magnet arrays, five such magnets of progressively increasing strength, are mounted in magnesium blocks.

These magnets are intended to attract any magnetic particles in the windborne dust. The picture shows a magnet array on Sol 6 and on Sol 13. Dust has clearly accumulated on the two strongest magnets. As more dust is attracted with time, we expect the patterns on the magnets to become clearer.


Magnetic properties experiment - Lower magnet array (440 nm)

mpe_0718.jpg (109K)


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