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Mars Space Science

Mars Rover Finds Unusual Rocks at 'Home Plate' 90

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the get-the-umpire-a-new-telescope dept.
An anonymous reader writes "After several months of driving nearly a kilometer, the Mars Rover Spirit has reached the semicircular plateau dubbed 'Home Plate' in Gusev Crater and has unearthed a puzzle. Spirit first got a good view of Home Plate in late August from 'Husband Hill'. The layered appearance is unlike anything yet seen by the rovers."
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Mars Rover Finds Unusual Rocks at 'Home Plate'

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  • by TripMaster Monkey (862126) * on Monday February 13, 2006 @02:27PM (#14708675)

    Outrage and disgust swept through the community today as the Council of Elders confirmed the rumours that one of the mechanized invaders from the sinister blue planet third from our star has defiled one of our holiest landmarks.

    Recently declassified vision-waves from the elite team of warriors dispatched to track the invader's progress clearly shows the horrible automaton stretching out its spindly claw towards the Tracks Of The Founder, a most sacred site for G'loshnaks and Z'treems alike.

    K'Breel, Speaker for the Council, stressed yet again that there was no cause for alarm:
    "I assure you, this assault upon our holy sites will not go unpunished. For descrecrating the most holy Tracks Of The Founder, a site that no one is even permitted to look upon, the disgusting inhabitants of the Evil Blue Planet have forefited any possibility of mercy. The brave warriors who reported this outrage are even now ritualistically puncturing their gelsacs for inadvertently gazing upon the holy site, and their ichor will not spill in vain!"
    When asked if citizens who viewed the sacrilige via the declassified vision-wave would also be required to satisfy the honor of the Founder by ritualistic gelsac puncture, K'breel replied,
    "No, the Council of Elders has decreed that a light scourging will suffice. If you have witnessed this horrible act via the declassified vision-wave, please report to your nearest purification center immediately.
    • I had waited SO LONG for the next episode of this hilarious story! :)

      Kudos to you.
      • Here, here.

        To the parent: Despite the brevity and intended humour, that was still very well done. You have a concept, and an idea to base it on. Why not write a book?

        Heck, if you're not into it, maybe a bunch of us can start one together. WikiBooks [wikibooks.org] is intended for textbooks, but a multi-author novella might do just as well.
    • by dreemernj (859414)
      Maybe someday these can all be compiled onto a website...and that site will be posted as a story on /. ...and nobody will be able to read it...because the server will have died...
    • Where can I read more of these in the series?
    • Fortunately for us, like most aliens in the original StarTrek, they speak English. Now that we know of their plans we can prepare for the eventual attack!
  • by salemnic (244944) on Monday February 13, 2006 @02:43PM (#14708934)
    I'm simply amazed that this thing keeps moving. What was the original life expectancy? 3 months? How longs has it been going now? 2 years?

    Unbelievable.

    Yay engineers! Yay Science! Yay School!

    s
    • Yet I can't keep my car running for more than a few weeks. Damn you Honda!!!
    • by INeededALogin (771371) on Monday February 13, 2006 @03:06PM (#14709234) Journal
      Simply amazing only because they advertised the bare minimum/worst case scenario as the life expectancy. Honestly, NASA couldn't chance another failure so they played it safe.

      This is a machine... a very well built one. The fact that both are running just shows that many of the NASA assumptions were incorrect, such as how well a machine would function on the surface, the effects of the varying temperature on components and the overall dependability of a machine.

      We should be thinking of the 3 months number as nothing more than a warranty. The engineers(whoever they were) gave a conservative number that these things would run for 3 months. Just as car makers give me a 2-3 year warranty, I still expect my car to work well after that warranty is up.

      Anyways, it is amazing, but demonstrates a problem with goverment research projects and the importance of a tangible success/failure as opposed to just saying, it will run until it stops and we will collect as much data as possible. This is also the same problem with Hubble. While Hubble gives us tons of useful scientific research, it is a project without an end and without a tangible success to be stamp on a piece of paper to justify all those tax payers money. (Man... where did this rant come from:-/)
      • In all fairness (Score:5, Informative)

        by edremy (36408) on Monday February 13, 2006 @04:08PM (#14709918) Journal
        If you read Squyres' book, he knew that 90 days was totally doable, but wasn't sure about much longer. The original plan was for 30 days, but he figured they couldn't get any science at all in that short a time and they needed funding for at least 90. Dust buildup on the solar panels was going to cripple the rovers quickly since they couldn't figure out a good way to clean the panels.

        They never expected the Martians to clean the panels off periodically. (Dust devils, actually) Check out some of the recent photos- the panels are amazingly clean, far better than they ever hoped. Even so, the rovers aren't in good shape- Spirit has no teeth left on the RAT and has several steering motors with issues, Opportunity has major problems with it's robotic arm and how the mini-TES is still working without nighttime heat is unknown.

        • I think the martians periodically repair them. But not too well as that would rouse our suspicions...
        • They never expected the Martians to clean the panels off periodically. (Dust devils, actually) Check out some of the recent photos- the panels are amazingly clean, far better than they ever hoped. Even so, the rovers aren't in good shape- Spirit has no teeth left on the RAT and has several steering motors with issues, Opportunity has major problems with it's robotic arm and how the mini-TES is still working without nighttime heat is unknown.

          Huh???? Several of it's motors have steering issues. That only lea

          • They're having fits. Since the rovers can steer every wheel this can be overcome. (Ditto 6 wheel drive: when they started losing a front wheel drive motor when climbing Husband Hill they were able to drive in reverse using only 5 drive wheels and dragging the other.) See for example the February 6 update on Spirit

            Spirit completed two diagnostic tests of the dynamic brakes on sol 735 (Jan. 27, 2006) after the team detected a dynamic brake fault associated with the left-front and right-rear steering actua

      • You forgot to mention the unexpected dust-devil cleaning action on the solar cells. They were originally expecting that the cells would be so coated with dust after a few months that they wouldn't produce enough power for the unit to move. One erroneous assumption that worked out in their favor!
      • The thing is, unlike your car, there were a lot of unknowns. Also, the rovers are functioning without any maintenance in an environment that wasn't well known. Your car will at least get regular oil and filter changes.
    • Yay engineers! Yay Science! Yay School!


      Two hours later they then received the following transmission from the rover computer:

      All these worlds are yours, except Mars.
      Attempt no colonies there.

      Oh, and don't bother with those stones. There really isn't anything exceptional beneath them. No sir. Absolutely not. Now bugger off this planet.
    • Full-on! It surely is great to see devices like this serving not only multiple purposes, but designed so well that they perform their duties well long after their life expectancy. Can of these space vehicles can be designed in such a way as to have life after death? Like, long long life?

      And automated mass-production?
    • by TheSkepticalOptimist (898384) on Monday February 13, 2006 @04:17PM (#14710014)
      Actually, I think they just dramatically underestimated their performance and life cycle.

      Lets face it, Nasa hasn't had a lot of success as of late. If they sent a couple of rovers to Mars and suggested they would last 3 years, and then they died 2 days into the mission, it would be egg on Nasa's face. Instead, they said the rovers had a 3 month life expectancy, and everyone is slapping Nasa on the back after 2 years into the mission. I think Nasa purposely make the 3 months comment just to reap the benefits of finally having a successful mission to mars.

      Nasa over designs things, so I was dubious when they said the Mars rovers would only last 3 months. Barring any significant dust or wind storms, there is no reason why the rovers should not have lasted this long if they are solar powered and reasonably well engineered.

      What is unbelievable is that Nasa designed something that didn't f*ck up in the first 3 months, or even on landing. But I would take the whole "only designed for a 3 month mission" with a big spoon full of sugar, internally the rovers were probably designed to last a decade. Your car would last a century if some company put 800+ million into creating it, I would expect the same from a couple of 400 million dollar platforms with wheels on them. Remember, the mars rovers we over budget and delayed, so lowering expectations is Nasa's typical method for covering up budget overruns and delays. Once something demonstrates apparently unexpected success, everybody forgets about the price tag.
      • I think you're being a bit over-critical. You try designing something given a drastically different environment than we normally design things for, you can't fully test it in the environment, AND you have limited weight, size, etc. This isn't an easy job and shooting for lasting long enough to get the science done isn't such a dumb idea.

        Why are you so critical of NASA? Is there some other space agency that's been wildly sucessful that makes NASA look foolish? Seems to me the britsh Beagle smashed into t
      • by vsprintf (579676) on Monday February 13, 2006 @08:59PM (#14712672)

        Instead, they said the rovers had a 3 month life expectancy, and everyone is slapping Nasa on the back after 2 years into the mission. I think Nasa purposely make the 3 months comment just to reap the benefits of finally having a successful mission to mars.

        Then you would be wrong. The 3-month designed life expectancy is the period it takes to accomplish the mission's primary goals. If the primary goals are accomplished, the mission is a success, if not it is considered a failure. Anything after that is gravy. Generally, mission operations are initially approved/funded only for the designed life expectancy, and any operations after that requires additional approval and funding. Try to remember that the satellite in space or a rover on another planet is only a part of a mission's costs.

        Barring any significant dust or wind storms, there is no reason why the rovers should not have lasted this long if they are solar powered and reasonably well engineered.

        Stuff happens. Like when they unexpectedly found what appeared to be saline mud under the rover wheels that certainly weren't designed for it. Supposedly, the Titanic was "reasonably well engineered", and we had far more experience with ship building at the time than we do now with building semi-autonomous exploration vehicles for other planets.

        What is unbelievable is that Nasa designed something that didn't f*ck up in the first 3 months, or even on landing.

        Over twenty years ago, NASA launched a satellite with a 3-year mission. There have been 13 points of failure, but thanks to built in redundancy, some clever engineers, and the ability to reprogram (for lack of a better term) the craft, it is still doing its job. Some years back NASA sent up a satellite with an experimental sensor and a 1-year maximum mission. Due to scientific interest in the data being returned, it is still flying after more than 5 years although it is out of fuel. First, you claim NASA over-engineered the rovers and then claim that NASA can't engineer anything in the first place.

        Your car would last a century if some company put 800+ million into creating it, I would expect the same from a couple of 400 million dollar platforms with wheels on them.

        The actual cost of the vehicle is a small part of the mission cost. The satellite I just mentioned was built for under $500,000, while the cost of the mission has been much greater. Royal Caribbean is building a cruise ship for over a billion dollars. Even with people to service and repair it, I doubt it will still be sailing cruises in 100 years (and that doesn't include operations costs as long as we're comparing cruise ships to Mars rovers).

      • Nasa over designs things, so I was dubious when they said the Mars rovers would only last 3 months. Barring any significant dust or wind storms, there is no reason why the rovers should not have lasted this long if they are solar powered and reasonably well engineered.

        Of course it's the solar power that's the issue - because they expected the panels to covered in dust by now. The dust devils that cleaned them were totally unexpected.

        What is unbelievable is that Nasa designed something that didn't f*ck u

    • Yes, I'm actually surprised its solar panels doesn't collect dust over time. This was brought up as almost a given early on. Did it somehow turn out this wasn't an issue after all?
    • it's a reversal of Mr. Scott's (rest in peace) technique. give the captain a repair scheduled inflated by 3X, fix in the regular time and presto... you're a miracle maker.

      nasa just did the oposite. tell the public the rovers are expected to last only 3 months. if they live 9 months or more... presto. they're miracle makers.
  • Looks like a concrete footer buried in the dirt. Isn't this where Donald Trump supposed to be opening his new Galaxy Casino?
  • by mcsestretch (926118) on Monday February 13, 2006 @02:46PM (#14708980)
    Next up, the rover will extend its probe into home plate. If rebuffed at third base, the rover will revert back to trying to get under home plate's sweater.

    /So sorry.
    //Couldn't resist.
    ///Slashies are fun.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 13, 2006 @02:52PM (#14709046)

    has unearthed a puzzle

    That's unmarsed a puzzle. Typical terran bias.

  • It fell out when I wasn't watching where I was going around Deimos, and I had to limp home on solar sails.

    Um, any chance they can return it to me any time soon? Those things are real expensive ...
  • Humming "Ligeti [visual-memory.co.uk]?"

    BTW: Did you ever notice that HAL has one eye - like the cyclops in Homer's Odyssey?
  • by MrFlibbs (945469) on Monday February 13, 2006 @03:10PM (#14709285)
    Just imagine if they'd found a set of wickets instead of home plate? Then we'd all be in danger from planet Krikkit!
  • Sediment? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ObsessiveMathsFreak (773371) <obsessivemathsfreakNO@SPAMeircom.net> on Monday February 13, 2006 @03:15PM (#14709340) Homepage Journal
    I'm no geologist, by those layered rocks look like some kind of sendiment formation to me. Which would make sense if mars had water bodies of some kind.

    Then again they could just be volcanic rocks.

    Can any of Slashdot's resident geologists solve this mystery in three of less posts?
    • Re:Sediment? (Score:2, Interesting)

      by DisownedSky (905171) *

      I'm not a geologist either, althoug I have been following the discussion at Unmanned Spaceflight [unmannedspaceflight.com]. There are as many hypotheses as hypothesizers. When you have that many thin layers with significant cross-lamination, then it seems to me to point to deposition by wind or water. It can't just be slabs of lava. Of course, everyone is hoping that water will be the answer.

      In some of the images from late last week [nasa.gov], there appears to be a spherule, not unlike the ones foundon the other side of the planet by Op

      • In some of the images from late last week, there appears to be a spherule, not unlike the ones found on the other side of the planet by Opportunity.

        I think Spirit has merely lost its marbles.
             
    • by tgd (2822)
      I'm no oncologist, but that little squishy thing I just sneezed out of my nose looks like a dislodged brain tumor.

      Can any resident Slashdot oncologists solve this mystery?
    • Re:Sediment? (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      They are sedimentary layers of some kind -- either volcanically deposited (e.g., like an ash fall) or sediment deposited by fluids (air or water). Once they get the instruments up against the outcrop and get some composition data, it should help narrow the possibilities.

      The structure looks somewhat like the sediments that have been observed by Opportunity at Meridiani, sans "blueberries" (hematite concretions), though one possible blueberry has turned up (e.g., the far left of this image [nasa.gov]), and there might
    • The layered rock looks just like slate.
  • by TheZorch (925979) <thezorch@ g m a i l .com> on Monday February 13, 2006 @03:36PM (#14709580) Homepage
    ObsessiveMathsFreak has it right. That is fossilized sedimentary rock. You can find it all over places like China where several feathered dinosaurs were found recently directly linking dinos with birds.

    Anyway, if there is at all a chance of proving that Mars might have once harbored life THIS IS THE PLACE to look. Because its within sedimentary rock that you find the greatest proliferation of fossils. Any self-respecting paleo-geek can tell you that.
    • by gEvil (beta) (945888) on Monday February 13, 2006 @04:14PM (#14709978)
      I disagree. While the rocks do have the appearance of a striated laminate, there are enough layer thickness inconsistences visible over very short distances that this may not be the case. You can get similar visible features from magma and volcanic flows. Also, some very serious uplift and tilting has occurred (the layers are visible along a horizontal surface) At this point, it's difficult to even pinpoint it down to which of the three major rock types it is (igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic) without chemical and microscopic analysis. You certainly can't tell from a series of black and white pictures. Which is exactly why there's debate about this among even the experts.
    • Looks strikingly similar to the sedimentary rock I used to drill in southeast Alaska when I was blowing up rock for a living. It looks just like that, only in color and with more water.
    • Yes, they found sedimentary rock. This is because the mars rovers are on the same soundstage as the lunar missions. They've just run into the Los Angeles River.

      Next, they'll find a fossilized human tooth.
    • I must say I disagree with you but you have a good point. IMHO, that is, obviously, as well as in China, ancient-feathered dinosaur's poo. In this case, we would be talking about martian-ancient-feathered dinosaurs's poo of course. No bird, no matter how ancient, can migrate that far. We all know that.
  • What if...? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    This may only be a nifty geological find but what if...

    What if the rovers did come across something which was undeniably manufactured. Say the rovers happened upon a rock with a sheet of bent and rusted steel laying against it. What if the robot caught a picture of what would look like a circuit board or some motorized assembly. What then? Would we be seeing pictures of it right away? In a day? In a month? In a year?

    What if the evidence began stacking up that there had been a civilization on Mars but
    • ah, where is the "mod paranoid" option when one needs it.. :)
    • If you had a big enough dish, you could probobly listen to, capture and decode the raw images from mars yourself (and because they are created by NASA, there is no copyright issues involved)
    • Re:What if...? (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Lijemo (740145)

      I once herd a NASA scientist give a response to such views.

      His point was this: Like any other agency, NASA's biggest problem is the limited funding. If they released pictures that indicated something created by intelligent beings and asked to investigate further, the money would pour in. Thus they would have NO motiviation to keep such a find secret, and EVERY motivation to share it. Such a find would end their finantial difficulties for a very long time.

      (After all, it's not like some unauthorized perso

    • "What if the rovers did come across something which was undeniably manufactured. "Say the rovers happened upon a rock with a sheet of bent and rusted steel laying "against it. What if the robot caught a picture of what would look like a circuit "board or some motorized assembly. What then? Would we be seeing pictures of it "right away? In a day? In a month? In a year?"

      We found BEAGLE II!!!!!!
  • From TFA:
    Crumpler said deliberations within the team about what they are viewing "have been the closest thing to passionate debate that I have seen yet."

    "It has a shape when seen from above that is reminiscent of a playa ..."
    Don't hate..
  • 'Home Plate' is a buried star gate!

"Look! There! Evil!.. pure and simple, total evil from the Eighth Dimension!" -- Buckaroo Banzai

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