What you see is not always what you get.
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At the end of sol 12, after completing observations of Kaibab, the
FIDO team was disappointed because they couldn't reach the piece of
bedrock they wanted to further study with the robotic arm instruments.
The team decided that the overhang on the Kaibab rock made it too
dangerous to proceed in trying to extend the arm.
The team was faced with a dilemma: should they send the rover north or south on
the next sol? Toward the north sat a light colored, flat area named
"Bonneville" that scientists thought contained recently formed
mud cracks. Mud cracks might indicate that water, and possibly even life,
existed at the site recently. However, there was also the option to go
south, where some contrasting darker and brighter rock units presented by
orbital data had caught scientists' attention. These unique rock units
were not evident at the rover's present or past locations, and some
scientists felt that investigating a broad range of rock types was more
important than the investigation of mud cracks, which were believed to
be a fairly common feature in the region.
After a long period of vigorous debate, scientists decided to head
toward the Bonneville site, hoping to find the mud cracks. Upon arrival,
to the scientists' surprise, there were no mud cracks! Instead, the
scientists found bedrock, which is the type of rock they had wanted to
test at Kaibab. The bedrock at Bonneville was less dangerous to reach.
The bedrock had been scoured by past water flows, which had eroded the
rock surface over time, making it very accessible to the FIDO rover
instruments. Scientists collected data using the
Microscopic Imager (MI), and
"Exploration is a trial and error process," explains Jim Rice,
an astrogeologist from Arizona State University, who also helps decide
where to point the camera on the Mars Odyssey orbiter. "Scientists
formulate hypotheses by analyzing observations and data. Sometimes the
hypothesis is proven wrong, but this is not a bad thing, because it
eliminates one possibility and helps bring scientists closer to a better
understanding of the true nature of the landscape."
Science team members all seem to agree: you can't always predict
what you'll find once you venture out to a new place, but you can always
find something interesting to study once you get there. After all, humans
have only landed spacecraft on the surface of Mars three times before
(Viking 1 & 2 and Mars Pathfinder), so there's much still to discover.