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FIDO completes longest drive of the Summer 2002 test

View a larger image (190 kB) or learn about other sol 17 images.

FIDO completed its longest journey of the Summer 2002 test, covering 71 meters (233 feet), and it sent a message of success to eagerly awaiting team members on sol 17. Principal Investigator Steve Squyres was thrilled by the rover's performance, and the scientists' eagerness to explore. "It's great to see us doing true exploration to go along with our 'geologizing.' We've been doing very good field geology in an area we know. What we did this time was drive away from something we knew into the unknown to see what was there. We've used the capability of the rover to get us someplace really new."

Steve Squyres

Within minutes of seeing the data, scientists knew this area was unlike any other they had explored so far. "We finally got our mud cracks," commented scientist Ray Arvidson. The elusive indicators for life were not found at Bonneville where some scientists had expected to see them, so their discovery at this new site was especially rewarding.

"We anticipate these mud cracks telling us two major things: what modern processes were at work to form this now very dry valley, and if there are regions within the valley that have recently been wet, thus providing what may be habitable zones within this extreme environment ," explains Arvidson. To answer these questions and others, scientists will request a number of tests including images from the Microscopic Imager and dig a shallow trench with the rover's wheel.

The Microscopic Imager will take a sequence of pictures of the undisturbed cracks before any trenching occurs. These images could reveal past or current existence of bacteria in microbial mat systems. "The rover field site is a very extreme environment, where life does not thrive," explains Arvidson. " In past FIDO tests, we've seen lots of bushes and grasses, or even a bug or two, but this site hasn't revealed hardly any of that to us. It's much like Mars in that our search for life will be on the microscopic scale." Microbial mat systems are created on Earth on wet mud cracks and can stay dormant for months and years, and then come to life when the area gets wet. "Microbial mats may also be something we find on Mars, particularly as fossils," explains Arvidson. "That's because liquid water can't exist for long on the martian surface today, but many believe that water was once common on Mars for longer periods of time in its history."

Ray Arvidson, Meredith Berwick, Ed Guiness

Scientists will then locate an appropriate trenching site and spin the left front wheel to uncover the layers and the modern history that have made up this area. "Our hypothesis is that we may be in a valley of the modern river system where mud accumulates. This area could potentially be the last place of standing water after a storm - sort of like being at the bottom of mud puddle," says Arvidson. Once the trench is dug, scientists will command the rover to lower its arm (the Instrument Deployment Device) into the channel and investigate with its many science instruments.

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Last Updated: 18 August 2002

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