Sunday, January 3rd, 2010 celebrated Mars rover Spirit’s six year spell on the planet – which is much longer than the three-month period initially forecast for it. However, the stint on the red planet might end as the 180 kilogram, six-wheeled robot seems to be stuck in Martian sand.
Spirit, struck sand in April after breaking through a crusty surface at the edge of the Troy crater which is located west of the Home Plate plateau on Mars.
Every single attempt to extract it has so far been unsuccessful. In November, the robot seemed to be firmly lodged, and would not budge, and unfortunately broke its right rear wheel in the process. A worn out electric motor stopped its right front wheel from working in 2006.
Stuck in Martian sand, Spirit does not seem to be even able to recharge its batteries as the slow build up of sand on the robot’s solar panels is getting in the way. The only hope lies in wind blowing away the dust or even a tiny bit of energy that would help Spirit to move so that its panels point better towards the sun.
The NASA website states, “The amount of sunshine available will continue to decline until (the Martian solstice) May 2010. Spirit may not have enough power to remain in operation during the Martian winter.”
Even while being stuck, Spirit was still able to make a discovery that was quite unexpected. The spinning of its wheels, attempting to break free of the Martian sand stirred up the ground and revealed traces of sulphate underneath it.
Scientist Ray Arvidson, of the Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri says, “Sulfates are minerals just beneath the surface that shout to us that they were formed in steam vents, since steam has sulfur in it. Steam is associated with hydrothermal activity — evidence of water-charged explosive volcanism. Such areas could have once supported life.”