Bonneville or the Speedway?
Note: The black box in this image is a "data dropout" from
the rover. The data did not properly transmit down from the
rover in that portion of the image.
View a larger image (1 MB) or learn about other sol 12 images.
Bonneville or the speedway? That was the question debated by FIDO
scientists as the Mars Exploration Rover team entered their sixth day of
training exercises (which is sol 12 of the test). The excitement centered
on the mission's freedom to explore in any of several different directions.
Of course, that freedom also fueled debate as to what direction, what
exploration, and what targets would maximize the amount of knowledge the
team back at JPL could gain about the area around the rover in its remote location.
While discussing long-term planning, some FIDO participants strongly
advocated an immediate run toward open areas 200 meters (656 feet) to
the south. There, if at all, FIDO could encounter evidence of geological
terrains different from those found near its landing site. But, back on
sol 10, the science team had discovered "Ray's Clays" which
showed evidence of water activity in the ancient past, and Bonneville is a
location 30 meters (98 feet) away from Ray's Clays where the scientists
may be able to see evidence of even more recent water activity.
By studying images sent by FIDO, the Bonneville site may seem like
just a broad patch of brightly reflecting dirt in a stream valley to the
northwest. But to the experienced eyes of FIDO scientists, Bonneville's
reflectance suggests a thin accumulation of mud formed in the waning
stages of a rare flood that brought flowing water into the channel. Mud
appears to have accumulated in the pond, and as the water evaporated,
the mud fractured into mud cracks. These mud cracks are silent witnesses
to a history of water flow and subsequent drying.
"It's a gamble", said Andrew Knoll, Fisher Professor of
Natural History at Harvard University, and one of the FIDO team's
astrobiologists. "Bonneville may not be what we think it is. But, if this
bright spot really formed in a pond, it will give us our best chance to
'follow the water' all the way to finding life."
So in the end, a convincing majority of the scientists agreed to take a
short trip to the apparent mud flat named, "Bonneville" before
beginning the longer trek south.