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."
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