Friday, July 23, 2004

Tilling the soil of Mars

Click here to see a 600k animation of the soil in Endurance crater. These two images are more than 24 hours apart. The frames are available on the MER raw data page, Sol 173 and 174 from the Opportunity rover. For those who are interested, it's frame 1M143541886EFF3300P2908M2M1.jpg and frame 1M143629327EFF3300P2977M2M1.jpg. The lack of shadows is typical of these images, since the Microscopic Imager is casting its shadow across the entire field of view. The scale is very small, the large image in the link is about 1/2" tall. The grains are smaller than sand.

The two frames are not well aligned with each other (since the team is looking at something different than I am, that's not uncommon) but I have become somewhat proficient in transforming one file so it overlays the other. In some cases, this gives a 3D appearance, in others, like this one, you get the foreground rock moving in and out of the frame.

There is a general background motion, which is not of interest to me as it's simply the soil at two slightly different camera angles. What does interest me, is that there are also several locations where the soil particles have been moved. Likely reasons for the motion include gaseous transport as something vents from under the soil, dirt falling off the MI and disturbing the soil, thermal processes, and finally (I'll say it!) Life.

At some point in the mission, I hope they let the MI sit and stare at a bit of soil, and we'll get a set of images free of camera motion errors. Then we'll see if there are some real effects going on.

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