Mars scientists settle in for high-science
'The thrill is not gone'
July 9, 1997
Web posted at: 7:58 p.m. EDT (2358 GMT)
In this story:
PASADENA, California (CNN) -- After several days of surprises
and joy at their technological success, the Mars Pathfinder
mission team shifted gears and settled Wednesday into savoring the details of
At their daily news conference at the Jet Propulsion
Laboratory Wednesday, three mission scientists discussed in
great detail and with obvious relish the composition of a
single rock and their plans for analyzing others.
While the discussion was animated and articulate, it was not
the sort of thing that makes headlines, and eventually a
reporter asked if perhaps the scientists had "come down from
"The science is just beginning," said Peter Smith, a
principal investigator for the imaging project. "Day by day,
the interpretation is getting more and more sophisticated.
"We've had tremendous discussion and a lot of imaginative
ideas about what is forming these rocks. I'd say the
excitement is building among the scientists."
Among the things that stirred their excitement were:
- The discovery that the rock known as Barnacle Bill appears to be composed of the same material, rather than an aggregate of several rock fragments.
Dr. Jeff Johnson of the U.S. Geological Survey said unless the rock later proves to be composed of especially fine particles, its composition "gives credence to a volcanic hypothesis."
In other words, it could have been created by a volcano.
- The Sojourner rover successfully "crabbed" sideways to reposition itself near a rock called Yogi. It took photos of Yogi from its front and rear cameras, took some photos of the lander, then was left overnight with its alpha proton X-ray spectrometer buried in the Martian soil like an electronic aardvark to collect data.
- A panoramic black-and-white photograph shot by a camera on the lander showed what Johnson described as the "rough, tortured-looking" rock and soil in the Ares Vallis depression.
Among the features were a modest arroyo that appeared to
contain wind-blown sand, a low hill that proved to be the
edge of a crater several miles away and, on the horizon, a
faint, conical peak believed to be about 1,900 feet (576
Project scientist Matthew Golombek said the crater was not a
volcanic crater, but an "impact" crater from a meteorite.
It was also revealed that several reporters had seen the
panorama in color on high density television while wearing
3-D glasses, and found the view to be stunning.
When the Sojourner rover is done with its analysis of the
rock known as Yogi and its environs, Golombek said it will
move on to other rocks. Two that particularly interest the
team have been called Scooby Doo and Casper.
"They appear to be white, to our amazement," Golombek said.
"Any white rock is of tremendous interest because it implies
differentiation of product. Whether they are volcanic or
sedimentary, they are of tremendous interest."
Golombek also said the Hubble Telescope will be taking
pictures of Mars over the next three days, and the photos
will be compared with those taken from the planet's surface.
Golombek said the hope is that they will be able to resolve
why, from space, Mars' atmosphere appears to
be clear, but from the planet's surface "we find it dusty."
Asked when pictures of Earth might be taken, Smith said,
"Earth is not well-positioned to take what we want to take.
Maybe in a week or so."
He added that while such a picture is not a high priority
scientifically, it does have "gee whiz value."
Golombek addressed the "gee whiz" issue himself, noting that
85 megabits of information were downloaded overnight.
"You've got 70 investigators here who are like kids in a
candy store," he said. "They're at the end of a fire hose of
data. The thrill is not gone."
- Scientists call Martian rock 'a real surprise' - July 8, 1997
- Rover 'holds hands' with Barnacle Bill - July 7, 1997
- Sojourner, meet Barnacle Bill - July 6, 1997
- Tiny Mars rover set to take giant roll for mankind - July 5, 1997
- NASA gets good news on Pathfinder glitch - July 5, 1997
- NASA gets good news on
Pathfinder glitch - July 5, 1997
- Communications glitch hampers Mars rover - July 5, 1997
- Mars Pathfinder sends first snapshots - July 4, 1997
- NASA: Pathfinder has landed - July 4, 1997
- Pathfinder speeds toward Martian surface - July 4, 1997
- Pathfinder nears its destiny - July 3, 1997
- Scientists giddy as Pathfinder nears Mars - July 1, 1997
- NASA hope third time's the charm for Mars probe launch - December 3, 1996
- Pathfinder to roam Mars in search of possible life - October 1, 1996
Related sites:Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.
Watch these shows on CNN for more sci-tech stories:
CNN Computer Connection | Future Watch | Science & Technology Week
© 1997 Cable News Network, Inc.
All Rights Reserved.