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Multi-purpose, Multi-planet Benefits from the Science Instruments


View a larger image of a) (30 kB), b) (30 kB), c) (260 kB), or d) (400 kB) or learn about other sol 15 images.

Many instruments on the FIDO rover measure the composition of soil and rocks. They work in concert together validating each other and confirming results.

The APXS determines what chemical elements, such as carbon and iron are in soil and rocks, while the Mössbauer instrument can tell which form of iron is contained in minerals within the soil.

Tom Economou

Tom Economou

As Tom Economou, a scientist from the University of Chicago, explains, "For example, let's say we had a cookie, a cake, and a soda sitting on a table. The APXS would be able to tell that there was carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen--that is, the basic elements that make up sugar molecules. The Mössbauer instrument could then tell us how much of that sugar was inside the cookie versus the cake versus the soda."

Multiple instruments thus help scientists confirm results…and sometimes uncover surprises that other instruments can't detect. "The soil sample taken for the FIDO test yesterday turned out some nice, consistent results with the APXS and Mössbauer in relation to iron-bearing minerals such as hematite," says Scott McLennan, a professor of geochemistry at Stony Brook University in New York. "But, the Mini-TES instrument picked up a signal for the mineral feldspar in a rock as well. However, the APXS didn't detect that." Both the chemists and mineralogists continue to study their data in hopes of finally resolving these important outstanding questions.

Scott Mclennan

Scott Mclennan

When the scientists aren't thinking about Mars, they're thinking of other ways to apply the "talents" of their instruments here on Earth. Take Paulo Antonio De Souza, Jr., for instance. He's a physicist at CVRD (Companhia Vale do Rio Doce) from Brazil who uses the Mössbauer Spectrometer to help find the source of different iron minerals in the air and within the soil and rocks.

"Since we designed a small, lightweight version of the Mössbauer for use on Mars, we have been able to take the instrument and better use it on Earth. For example, the instrument can characterize particles in the air and figure out where they came from, whether from a cement plant, a quarry, or coal mine." Paulo recently received the Willy Korf Award for Young Excellence for his work with the Mössbauer in environmental science, which helps reduce pollution in urban industrial areas.

Paulo Antonio De Souza, Jr.

The Mössbauer can also help improve the productivity in the steel industry. For example, the iron-ore pellets in blast furnaces may create a lot of dust, which reduces productivity. The Mössbauer can figure out which pellets produce the least amount of dust so furnace operators can choose the best pellets to use. "We even used the Mössbauer to figure out what materials the Greeks used to paint a 2,500 year old vase. We discovered hematite in the paint which is a common mineral on Mars too."

All these benefits on Earth have come directly from developing Mars exploration technology.

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Last Updated: 17 August 2002

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