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"Hey, how'd that get there?"

View a larger image (350 kB) or learn about other sol 10 images.

During the first day of science operations, or sol 7 of the mission, a "mystery boulder" created some confusion and much discussion among the scientists. The rock, named Woodstock, seemed out of place at the landing site based on its dark, heavily "varnished" surface, its texture, and its mineralogy, which was determined from spectral measurements. It appeared to be a basalt, the kind of rock produced by volcanic eruptions, but there were no obvious volcanic landforms nearby, and no other obvious basaltic rocks. "We actually joked that the FIDO field team had planted it next to the rover to confuse us," scientist Steve Ruff said with a laugh. The FIDO field team is a group of engineers who are caring for the FIDO rover in its desert location.

Anticipating that this rock must have originated from somewhere nearby, several of the scientists began to use satellite images acquired prior to the mission to look for a location in the landing ellipse that included a volcanic landform and the kind of cliffs at the landing site that are seen through the rover's cameras. The landing ellipse is an area roughly 120 km (70 miles) long and 30 km (18 miles) wide that represents the region in which the spacecraft can be predicted to land with a 99% level of confidence. It's often tough to match up orbital and ground images to determine the exact rover landing spot in an area of that size, but that's one of the first jobs the science team will tackle when the Mars Exploration Rovers arrive on Mars.

Steve Ruff

For determining FIDO's position, the only possible place that combined volcanic and cliff landforms was well away from the center of the ellipse. "This location was not unreasonable, but many of us had assumed that the rover had 'landed' closer to the center," commented Ruff. Then today, on sol 10 of the mission, scientists received a confirmed answer on the location of the rover using a long-awaited, newly arrived data set. The rover actually was nearer to the volcanic landforms and cliffs than previously assumed before discovering Woodstock.

The radio transmissions between the rover and the command center can actually be used to help locate the position of the rover. By sol 10, the processing of those radio data provided an accurate position for the rover, answering more precisely the question "Where are we in the ellipse?" But clues to that answer started to appear the day before, with the observation of a seemingly out-of-place rock and some clever detective work by the science team.

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Last Updated: 16 August 2002

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