A team of Lincoln High School students are becoming experts about the planet after spending months gathering data on the Mars Rovers for NASA.
Junior Scott Balaban knows how to use weather conditions on the Red Planet to predict future dust storms. Such activity was important to monitor because the twin rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, operate by solar energy. They could expend precious energy if caught in a dust storm.
One of 54 Mars Exploration Student Data Teams across the country, about a dozen Lincoln students spent the majority of the school year studying the Red Planet for the NASA educational program. Teams were trained to monitor storm and orbit patterns, or the rovers.
Both rovers, which landed in January on different parts of the planet, were designed to look for geologic evidence of past water activity in the rocks and soil on Mars. If evidence is found, it may show Mars had been suitable for life. Past missions have led scientists to believe that, billions of years ago, it was much warmer and wetter than it is today, informs wisinfo.com
According to heraldsun.news.com.au the US space agency has decided to send one of its Martian rovers into a volcanic crater in the hope of finding evidence of water there - even at the risk of being unable to retrieve the craft after it completes its mission.
Officials said yesterday the rover Opportunity would be able to enter Endurance Crater early next week. Endurance Crater has been attracting scientists because of its thicker and older layers of rock than those examined previously by NASA's two rovers scouring the surface of Mars.
During its earlier exploration of Eagle Crater, Opportunity found small-scale rock textures and evaporite mineral compositions indicating that a body of salty water covered the site a long time ago. Scientists believe that rock formation inside Endurance Crater could yield better evidence that water, a key environment for sustaining life, once existed on Mars.
The hills are a tantalising target for the science team as they may hold different types of rocks to those already seen, which could reveal more about Mars's geological history. "These rocks are much older than what we've been driving across," Rice said at a press conference at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory on Wednesday. "They may be some of the oldest material ever seen on Mars."
The hills rise about 100 metres above the plain Spirit is on, and feature spurs and talus slopes of rock debris. The hills could have been formed by a number of phenomena - volcanic activity, rock deformation or meteorite impact. Spirit is likely to take about a week to travel the last 400 metres, reports newscientist.com