The Spirit rover has had memory problems, arthritic-like symptoms in her wheels, as well as her current dilemma of being stuck in loose Martian soil. But now, is she having psychedelic visions, too?! No, not to worry; she’s not having hallucinations or smoking any mind-altering Martian weed. This image is just a combination of three images taken seconds apart through different colored filters to create a special-effects portrait of a huge, moving dust devil on Mars. It shows the dust devil in different colors, according to where it was on the horizon when each exposure was taken.
Amazingly, Spirit has recorded over 650 dust devils during her mission on Mars. This one is a whopper. Dust devils occur most frequently during the Martian springtime, when solar energy heats the surface, resulting in a layer of warm air just above the surface. Since the warmed air is less dense than the cooler atmosphere above it, it rises, making a swirling thermal plume that picks up the fine dust from the surface and carries it up into the atmosphere.
The rover team is working on creating a large color panorama of the area and these are three of the shots, which happened to catch the dust devil in action. The dust devils are interesting, and also have provided enough breeze to clean off Spirit’s solar panels, giving her a huge boost in energy. She’s been staying awake at night, taking astronomical images while stuck in her current location at “Troy.”
Back on Earth, the attempts to “Free Spirit” are proceeding at JPL. Using the engineering rover in a simulated test bed, engineers are trying out different ways to move the rover to best get her out, including a crablike backward drive, with the wheels turned indifferent directions. Keep current with the ongoing tests at the Free Spirit website.
Sources: JPL, Free Spirit