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Spotlight On Mars - Image
Broadcasting from a Planet Near You
September 08, 2008
This false-color image shows part of the spacecraft deck on the Spirit rover. On the left side of the image, surrounded by a dozen or so solar cells, wires, and spacecraft hardware, stands a slender, cylindrical rod mounted on a circular plate. To the right of the rod, in the middle of the image, an x-shaped hinge connects two parts of the solar array. The entire surface is coated with a reddish layer of dust.

Like talk show hosts, NASA's Mars rovers broadcast their findings at television frequencies. They record their observations and send them to the Mars Odyssey orbiter once or twice a day. Odyssey then broadcasts the program -- spectacular images and all -- back to Earth.

Both rovers carry UHF radios and antennas to talk to Odyssey. Though the UHF antenna may be a small, plain-looking rod (left of the x-shaped hinges on the solar panels), it helps keep the rovers "on the air." Other antennas on the rovers can send data, but those use higher frequencies and more power. By using UHF frequencies, Spirit and Opportunity have more energy for exploring Mars. That's what they love most.

Even with a layer of dust on Spirit's solar panels, the UHF transmissions have worked flawlessly, sort of like the dusty rabbit ears on your old TV.

False-color image courtesy of: Panoramic camera

Image credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell
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