legacy page  
     homeaboutessential guidepicture of the daythunderblogsnewsmultimediapredictionsproductsget involvedcontact

picture of the day

chronological archive               subject archive


Early in its mission, the Mars Exploration Rover A "Spirit" looks back at its own tracks. Credit: NASA/JPL.



The Spirit is Willing
Nov 20, 2009

The Spirit rover has reached an impasse. Is this the end of its mission?

On June 10, 2003, NASA launched a robotic science package called "Spirit" on a mission to travel across the surface of Mars. Less than a month later, on July 7, 2003, its identical twin "Opportunity" left the launch pad at Cape Canaveral on a six month journey to the Red Planet.

The Spirit and Opportunity rovers were named by Sofi Collis, age 9, in an essay contest sponsored by the Lego company. Hers was the winning entry chosen from 10,000 submissions.

Spirit has been on the surface of Mars for nearly five years. Its original parameters were for a mission duration of no more than three months, however it was almost immediately funded for an additional five months. The fact that it has now lasted ten times longer than initially anticipated demonstrates both the quality of its construction and the quality of the information it continues to send.

Before the Mars Exploration Rovers, there was little known about the surface of Mars. Viking 1 and Viking 2 soft-landed 33 years ago, but had no capacity for movement. No other experiments were successfully placed on the surface until the Pathfinder mission with the wheeled remote vehicle called "Sojourner," after the nineteenth century abolitionist Sojourner Truth. Pathfinder returned the first 3D images of Mars.

Spirit landed in a crater over 170 kilometers in diameter called Gusev. The crater was chosen by the navigation team because it appeared to be the remains of a crater lake, including a runoff channel. Planetary scientists hoped that it would provide evidence that liquid water was able to exist out in the open in the now frozen desert planet's past.

Spirit was the first space probe to take a high resolution picture of another planet. After bouncing several times across the rocky terrain inside a nest of airbags, when the ship finally came to rest, just before the rover was deployed, the cameras looked back at the effect of its several impacts. Its first target when it drove off the landing platform was the depression in the center of the image, later called "Sleepy Hollow."

The landing site proved to be unrewarding. Despite what looks like a riverbed entering Gusev crater there was nothing but basalt, probably the most common rock in the Solar System. The mission team referred to Gusev as a "basalt prison." The only recourse was to drive the rover to the "Columbia Hills" (memorializing the Columbia space shuttle tragedy) just visible on the horizon. It meant a three month trip. On the way, Spirit saw what was, for Electric Universe advocates, a significant phenomenon: dust devils whirling through the Martian dust.

A press release from the time stated: “When humans visit Mars, they'll have to watch out for towering electrified dust devils." The reason for the headline was that the dust devils seemed to be glowing like fireflies as they swept past the rover. In particular, the bottoms of the whirlwinds appeared to be continuous electric discharges. In a previous Picture of the Day, it was shown that the tops of the towering vortices are also lit up.

The electric discharges on Mars form what can become gigantic dust devils. Electrically charged dust storms, spinning at hundreds of kilometers per hour, create intense magnetic fields that tend to confine charged particles and accelerate them around the vortex at high speed. Rapid acceleration, coupled with high voltages in the dust causes the electric glow.

As Electric Universe theorist Wal Thornhill wrote at the time:

"Spirit is moving about in an area where there are frequent dust devils. The dust devils are not simply rotating winds caused by rising warm air. They are the form lightning takes in the thin Martian atmosphere. So they are a great hazard to surface craft, with their powerful electrostatic and electromagnetic effects. Just as the Galileo spacecraft suffered repeated computer glitches when it flew too close above the plumes of the electrical jets on Io, it is possible that Spirit has become a lightning rod and suffered internal arcing – with possibly serious consequences for its onboard electronics. I sincerely hope not!"

Perhaps an electrical environment that was more intense in the past is also responsible for another of Spirit's discoveries. As the rover traveled through an area of deep powder in 2006, its rear wheel became jammed, causing it to drag. The ground was churned up, uncovering some bright material just below the surface which turned out to be magnesium sulfate. The presence of sulfur in the Solar System has been suggested in past articles as a sign of electric discharges converting the oxygen in water-ice to sulfur.

Spirit has been stuck in a patch of soft ground for several months. It is hampered by its malfunctioning wheel, so has been unable to get out. Mission operators are going to attempt another maneuver that might extricate the hapless vehicle, but hopes are not high. If Spirit is unable to extricate itself, the mission will end as is. Whether it continues to wander the hills and valleys of Mars, or whether its lonely vigil fades out in the lee of a sandstone cliff, Spirit will long be remembered by the writers of these pages.

Stephen Smith



SPECIAL NOTE - **New Volumes Available:
We are pleased to announce a new e-book series THE UNIVERSE ELECTRIC. Available now, the first volume of this series, titled Big Bang, summarizes the failure of modern cosmology and offers a new electrical perspective on the cosmos. At over 200 pages, and designed for broadest public appeal, it combines spectacular full-color graphics with lean and readily understandable text.

**Then second and third volumes in the series are now available, respectively titled Sun and Comet, they offer the reader easy to understand explanations of how and why these bodies exist within an Electric Universe.

High school and college students--and teachers in numerous fields--will love these books. So will a large audience of general readers.

Visitors to the site have often wondered whether they could fully appreciate the Electric Universe without further formal education. The answer is given by these exquisitely designed books. Readers from virtually all backgrounds and education levels will find them easy to comprehend, from start to finish.

For the Thunderbolts Project, this series is a milestone. Please see for yourself by checking out the new Thunderbolts Project website, our leading edge in reaching new markets globally.

Please visit our Forum

  This free site search script provided by JavaScript Kit  
  FREE update -

Weekly digest of Picture of the Day, Thunderblog, Forum, Multimedia and more.
*** NEW DVD ***
  Symbols of an Alien Sky
Selections Playlist

An e-book series
for teachers, general readers and specialists alike.
(FREE viewing)
  Thunderbolts of the Gods

  Follow the stunning success of the Electric Universe in predicting the 'surprises' of the space age.  
  Our multimedia page explores many diverse topics, including a few not covered by the Thunderbolts Project.  

Authors David Talbott and Wallace Thornhill introduce the reader to an age of planetary instability and earthshaking electrical events in ancient times. If their hypothesis is correct, it could not fail to alter many paths of scientific investigation.
More info
Professor of engineering Donald Scott systematically unravels the myths of the "Big Bang" cosmology, and he does so without resorting to black holes, dark matter, dark energy, neutron stars, magnetic "reconnection", or any other fictions needed to prop up a failed theory.
More info
In language designed for scientists and non-scientists alike, authors Wallace Thornhill and David Talbott show that even the greatest surprises of the space age are predictable patterns in an electric universe.
More info

EXECUTIVE EDITORS: David Talbott, Wallace Thornhill
CONTRIBUTING EDITORS: Mel Acheson, Michael Armstrong,
Dwardu Cardona, Ev Cochrane, C.J. Ransom,
Don Scott, Rens van der Sluijs,
Ian Tresman, Tom Wilson
WEBMASTER: Brian Talbott
© Copyright 2009:
top ]

home   •   picture of the day   •   thunderblogs   •   multimedia   •   resources   •   forum   •   updates   •   contact us   •   support us