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A Mars rover  (Source: NASA)

The discovery made on the Red Planet  (Source: NASA)
The Mars rovers continue to impress

NASA this week announced its Mars Exploration Rover Spirit discovered a patch of land on Mars that revealed the possibility of a past environment able to sustain microbial life.

While exploring a scientifically important area of Mars last May, Spirit, while dragging a broken wheel on the surface, discovered a patch of "nearly pure silica" found the Home Plate section of Mars.  Scientists believe it came from a hot-spring or fumarole -- an environment which forces acidic steam to rise through cracks on the planet's surface, also stripping mineral components while leaving only silica behind.

Even though the rovers were not designed to evaluate possible signs of life, each discovery like this one provides pieces to a complicated puzzle on Mars.  Researchers hope to have the opportunity to study this specific location on Home Plate when new missions are launched to the Red Planet.  The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), scheduled to launch in September 2009, will be NASA's first chance to head back to Home Plate.

"Whichever of those conditions produced it, this concentration of silica is probably the most significant discovery by Spirit for revealing a habitable niche that existed on Mars in the past," said Steve Squyres, principal investigator for data gathered by the rovers.

Spirit now has only two weeks to safely arrive at a sun-facing slope on Home Plate before strong dust storms paralyzes it for the winter.

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RE: A Testament to Good Engineering
By LeviBeckerson on 12/12/2007 11:05:43 AM , Rating: 2
Both craft should still be functioning at well over half their original power output. They started with 470 watts and as of 2001, V2 was at around 319. I forget the number for V1, but I want to say it was 315 for some reason. Several systems were shut down to conserve the remaining fuel for as long as possible.

RE: A Testament to Good Engineering
By MrTeal on 12/12/2007 11:43:12 AM , Rating: 3
It's not to save fuel, the fuel will decay at a constant rate no matter how much power you're using. At this point they just lack the power to run all the instruments, so they've shut down some to keep others active.

RE: A Testament to Good Engineering
By jpmills on 12/12/2007 7:23:56 PM , Rating: 4
Currently Voyager is running on 283.9 watts as of 12/5 and Voyager 2 is running on 285.4 Watts. V1 is 31 W above minimum and V2 is 20 W above.

“So far we have not seen a single Android device that does not infringe on our patents." -- Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith
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