Monday, February 20, 2006

Martian tornados prolong rovers' lives

Remember when the Mars rovers first landed? They were only expect to last a few months, but they've gone on to last two years without a major loss in battery power. Why the extra lasting power? Tornados.
But even with thousands of dust devils blowing around, most scientists thought that the chance of actually imaging one was very small. At first, excitement bubbled when Spirit's camera imaged a distant white streak that might have been a passing dust devil. How fortuitous! Then another came by, even closer. In the end, engineers were taking panoramic shots of the plains of Gusev Crater, watching as many as three dust devils ramble by at a time. Yes, the rovers had found themselves in the midst of a veritable dust devil party. And it gradually began to dawn on the Earth-bound rover operators what was happening: wind from the passing dust devils was blowing away any dust that had accumulated on the solar panels, giving the rovers a new lease on life with each passage.
So let me get this straight. We spent all this money to learn that Mars is Oklahoma?

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