MER 2003 HOME PAGE -
Mars Exploration Rover (MER) 2003
The ATHENA Payload
Pancam views the surface around the rover, using two high-resolution stereo cameras to complement the rover's navigation cameras. Delivering panoramas of the martian surface with unprecedented detail, the instrument's narrow-angle optics provide angular resolution more than three times higher than that of the Mars Pathfinder cameras. Pancam's spectacular images will help scientists decide what rocks and soils to analyze in detail, and how to interpret the results. Panoramic imaging also provides information on the surface features of the area around the rover, the distribution and shape of nearby rocks, and the presence of dunes and features carved by ancient waterways. Pancam, working in conjunction with Mini-TES, provides a wealth of information about the surrounding environment. Images taken at various wavelengths will tell scientists about the mineralogical make-up of the martian surface.
Mini-TES (Mini-Thermal Emission Spectrometer)
The Mini-Thermal Emission Spectrometer, or Mini-TES, is an instrument that sees infrared radiation emitted by objects. The instrument is located at the bottom of the rover's mast, and scanning mirrors reflect light down to it. It sees the terrain around the rover from the same vantage point as Pancam. The Mini-TES is similar to Mars Global Surveyor's Thermal Emission Spectrometer (TES) instrument. Athena's Mini-TES will determine from afar the mineral composition of martian surface features and select specific rocks and soils to investigate in detail. Making measurements in the thermal IR has many advantages. The thermal IR has the ability to penetrate through the dust coatings common to the martian surface that can present problems for remote sensing observations. At these wavelengths, Mini-TES can recognize carbonates, silicates, organic molecules, and minerals formed in water. Thermal IR data will also help scientists assess the capacity of rocks and soils to hold heat over the wide temperature range of a martian day. In addition to determining mineral composition of martian surface materials, Mini-TES will be pointed upward to make the first ever high-resolution temperature profiles through the martian atmosphere's boundary layer.
Athena's Alpha-Particle-X-Ray Spectrometer will determine the elemental chemistry of rocks and soils accurately in order to complement and constrain the mineralogical analyses of the other instruments. Athena's APXS will perform elemental analyses of martian surface materials by directly touching a rock or patch of soil. Through the use of alpha particles and x-rays the APXS will accurately determine a sample's abundances of all rock-forming elements except hydrogen. Analyzing the elemental make-up of martian surface materials will provide scientists with information about crustal formation, weathering processes, and water activity on Mars.
Because many of the most important minerals on Mars contain iron, the Mössbauer Spectrometer is designed to determine with high accuracy the composition and abundance of iron-bearing minerals that are difficult to detect. Identification of iron-bearing minerals will yield information about early martian environmental conditions. The Mössbauer Spectrometer is also capable of examining the magnetic properties of surface materials and identifying minerals formed in hot, watery environments that could preserve fossil evidence of martian life.
Rock Abrasion Tool (Rat)
Mars is a dirty place. We know from Viking and Pathfinder that many martian rocks are covered with dust. Also, martian rocks might have been weathered by long-term exposure to the planet's atmosphere. If weathering has occurred, the surface of even a dust-free rock may not have the same composition as the rock's interior. And it's what's inside the rocks that matters most. In order to look at the interior of rocks, a field geologist on Earth uses a rock hammer. On the Athena payload, the job of a rock hammer is done by the RAT -- the Rock Abrasion Tool. The RAT is positioned against a rock by the rover's instrument arm, and uses a grinding wheel to remove dust and weathered rock, exposing fresh rock underneath. The RAT exposes an area nearly 5 cm (2 inches) in diameter, and grinds down to a depth of about 5 mm (0.2 inches).
Il Microscopio di Bordo
The Microscopic Imager is a combination of a microscope and a camera. It will produce extreme close-up views of rocks and soils examined by other instruments on the instrument arm, providing contextual information for the interpretation of mineral and element composition data. This instrument's detailed pictures will make other types of observations more useful since we will be able to associate them with a visual scene. Microscopic imaging will aid in the characterization of sedimentary rocks that formed in water, and thus will help scientists understand past watery environments on Mars. This instrument will also yield information on the small-scale features of rocks formed by volcanic and impact activity as well as tiny veins of minerals like the carbonates that may contain microfossils in the famous Mars meteorite, ALH84001.
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