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  • -= Mercurious Chat =- (weitz Chat Log)Hosted by Catherine Weitz of the Planetary Science Institute

    Brian Dannemiller - Moderator at Space Ed from De Pere, Wisconsin writes:
    Hello and welcome to the Space Explorers, Inc., online chat with Dr. Catherine Weitz, a program scientist in the Mars Exploration Program. The chat will begin shortly.

    Larry Aaron - Teacher at Chatham High School from Danville, Virginia asks:
    What differences could we expect to find in the sand particles on earth and those on Mars

    Sand particles on Earth are usually made up of a mineral called quartz. We don't expect to see this mineral on Mars because Mars is dominated by basaltic rocks, like those in Hawaii. So salt grains on Mars are likely to be basaltic in composition. Otherwise, we know there are sand particles on Mars and they could be similar in shape and size to those on Earth. There is an instrument called the Microscopic Imager on the Mars Exploration Rover mission that we hope will see sand grains up close.

    Brian Dannemiller - Moderator at Space Ed from De Pere, Wisconsin writes:
    Room opened by Moderator on 11/06/03 at 12:30.

    Lynn Mcdaniel - Teacher at Stewart Middle Magnet School from Tampa, Florida asks:
    From Students: What are the goals you expect the Mars Rover to accomplish?

    We are sending each rover to a site on Mars where we can see from orbit that water appears to have existed for long periods of time. We will use the instruments on each rover to search for rock shapes and compositions that would support that water resided in these locations for long periods, and may therefore be locations that would have been favorable to any past life.

    Scott Foreman - Chat Guest at Beulah Middle School from Beulah, North Dakota asks:
    How long did it take to design and build the Rover?

    The MER mission was selected by NASA back in the summer of 2000 so it took about three years to design and build the rovers, which is a very rapid schedule. The two rovers (Spirit and Opportunity) are identical to each other and partially based on the older design of the smaller 1997 Mars Pathfinder rover called Sojourner.

    Karen Schonauer - Teacher at West Elementary from East Rochester, Ohio asks:
    How are the rovers carried to Mars?

    Each rover was launched on a separate rocket earlier this year so the rocket is used to carry the rovers off the Earth. Each rover is protected inside a spacecraft that will transport it to Mars and through the Martian atmosphere. After landing, the rover will drive off the lander system that safely brought it to the Martian surface.

    Karen Schonauer - Teacher at West Elementary from East Rochester, Ohio asks:
    How were the names chosen?

    There was a contest sponsored by the LEGo company. Any schoolchild could send in an essay that listed a name for each rover and why these names were selected. The winning names were Spirit and Opportunity that were selected from an essay by a young girl from Arizona.

    Saundra Rohn - Teacher at Rivers Edge Elementary School from Port St. Lucie, Florida asks:
    How long will MER-A and MER-B stay on Mars?

    Each rover will hopefully work for at least 90 martian days (called a "sol"). We obviously hope the rovers last longer but this will depend upon how much sunlight they get each day, how cold it gets at night, and how much dust gets deposited on the solar panels.

    Stormi 11 - Student at Rivers Edge Elementary School from Port St. Lucie, Florida asks:
    Is your job fun?

    YES!! I get to work on a mission that will send a rover to Mars so how many people can say they do that for a job? Once the rovers land on Mars this January, then my job will get to be really fun as we see new pictures of Mars from the surface and can drive the rovers around on another planet. So my job is really out of this world.

    Karissa Porter - Chat Guest at North Gulfport 7th & 8th Grade from Gulfport, ms asks:
    What can you do if a rover is not working properly once it gets to Mars?

    The answer will really depend upon why the rover isn't working. We have done lots of testing of the rovers here on Earth before they were launched so we have planned different responses and software that can be used to make the rovers work properly if a problem should arise.

    Jemma Agar - Chat Guest at Bowler Elementary from Wittenberg, WI asks:
    Do you expect that they will send more rovers to Mars after Spirit and Opportunity

    I really hope so! Right now we are planning on sending an even bigger rover to Mars in 2009. Depending upon how well Spirit and Opportunity perform next year, we may decide to fly more rovers like them in the future as well.

    Christian Martinez - Chat Guest at from , asks:
    Do you expect to find any kind of life?

    That's a great question and one that all of us are asking now. Based upon the results from the Viking Landers back in 1976, we know the surface of Mars is very unfavorable to life as we know it. The air is very thin, the temperatures are very cold, and the Sun's ultraviolet light is more damaging at Mars than at the Earth so any life would have a tough time living at the surface. We are hoping that the rovers may find evidence of past life but don't expect to find current life forms.

    Lynn Mcdaniel - Teacher at Stewart Middle Magnet School from Tampa, Florida asks:
    Student: What will happen to a liquid (water) on Mars?

    Because the surface temperatures are below freezing and the air pressure is only 1/100 of that of the Earth, any liquid water would immediately turn into a vapor and sublimate into the atmosphere. water

    Jemma Agar - Chat Guest at Bowler Elementary from Wittenberg, WI asks:
    Did you help with designing or building with the rovers

    Nope, I am a scientist so I am just using the rovers to carry around the science instruments that will get the data I am interested in studying.

    Kenny 02 - Student at Rivers Edge Elementary School from Port St. Lucie, Florida asks:
    Did you study other objects in the solar system

    Yes, I have studied Venus, the Moon, and some of the moons of Jupiter. One of the great perks about being a planetary scientist is that there are so many objects in the solar system that one can study and each object has its own special properties that make it interesting to some scientist.

    Brian Polo - Chat Guest at Tussing Elementary from Colonial Heights, VA asks:
    How do you keep the cameras clear of fog or frost?

    There is very little water vapor in the Martian air and it only forms frost in the early morning. We intend to operate the cameras predominantly during the middle of the day when the sun will be shining and burning off any frost that may have condensed on the cameras..

    Mrs. Rohn's Class - Chat Guest at Rivers Edge Elementary from PSL, Florida asks:
    Will the Sun's flare have any affect on the mission?

    Right now we are having a problem with the star scanners that are used to tell the spacecraft where in space it is. Fortunately, the spacecraft can just use the sun to tell it's position in space. So far this is the only effect we have seen from the recent solar activity.

    David Meyerhof - Chat Guest at Nightingale Middle School from Los Angeles, California asks:
    These are questions form my 6th grade honors students: Omar asks: If plants were planted on Mars, would they be able to live and produce oxygen?Valerie asks: Why doesn't Mars have rings?

    For the first question, since the air is so thin and cold and there is no liquid water on the Martian surface, plants would not be able to grow under these conditions. We would have to set up a greenhouse first that could protect the plants from the martian environment and provide water for the plants to grow in order for any plants to live. As for why Mars doesn't have rings, it may be that only larger planets further out from the Sun could form rings.

    Jesus Sanchez - Chat Guest at Florence Nightingale from Los Angeles, California asks:
    Why does Mars have valcanic mountins

    In order to have volcanic mountains, there needs to be a large supply of lava that erupts at the same location over a long enough time to build up a mountain. Both the Earth and Mars have places where these conditions were met and that's why both have volcanic mountains..

    Strephanie Amesola - Chat Guest at Nightingale Middle from Los Angeles, California asks:
    How many images or pictures can the rovers take?

    There are 9 cameras on each rover and each will take varying amounts of pictures over the course of the mission. We expect that we will receive a few pictures every day from each rover, but there may be some days where we'll get more and other days when we won't get any images.

    Cindy Byers - Teacher at Rosholt Middle School from Rosholt, Wisconsin asks:
    How deep is valles marineris and has a probe ever been into it?

    It' s very deep compared to canyons on Earth. I would say it's about 8 km deep, which

    Brian Polo - Chat Guest at Tussing Elementary from Colonial Heights, VA asks:
    Are the computers run only by the solar panels?

    Yes, all the power for the rovers comes from the solar panels. This power is also stored in batteries on the rovers, which can be used to run computers during the nights if needed.

    Matthew 08 - Student at Rivers Edge Elementary School from Port St. Lucie, Florida asks:
    Are there tornados on Mars?

    None that we have seen. We have seen lots of dust devils, which are swirling clouds of dust that can be seen in desert regions here on Earth.

    Brian Dannemiller - Moderator at Space Ed from De Pere, Wisconsin writes:
    The chat room will be closing in a few moments. Thank you for joining us. And special thanks to our guest Dr. Catherine Weitz. Please join us again for our next Live Online Chat with Eric Brunsell about Comets and NASA's Stardust Mission on Tuesday, December 2, 2003 11:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. CST. And again on Wednesday, December 10, 2003 1:30 p.m. - 2:30 p.m. CST when Dr. Jack Bacon will be discussing the Centennial of Flight.

    Evelyn Cortes - Chat Guest at Nightingale Middle School from Los Angeles, Califorina asks:
    How fast are the rovers going?(in M.P.H)

    They don't go very fast, about 2 cm/sec, which is less than 1 MPH.

    Mars Student Explorers - Chat Guest at Lincoln High School from Manitowoc, WI asks:
    What are methods that you use to collect data on weather in Mars?

    There are now two orbiters around Mars and they each are taking pictures of Mars that show the weather in the same way that satellites take pictures of the Earth weather.

    paige csorny - Chat Guest at setauket from stony brook, new york asks:
    why is the soil on mars red?

    The soils of Mars are iron-rich and they are very rusty so this makes the soils have a red color.

    Kayla - Student at West Elementary from East Rochester, Ohio asks:
    Are the rovers operated from Earth?

    Yes, we send the commands for the rovers from Earth. The rovers are smart enough to operate on their own once they receive the commands from us because we can only communicate with each rover a few times each day. So if we tell the rover to drive to a location, the rover needs to figure out for itself what is the safest way to drive to that location.

    Kyle Stapleton - Teacher at Nezperce Jrsr High School from Nezperce, Idaho asks:
    How big are discovery and opportunity?

    Spirit and Opportunity are about 5 feet tall and 5 feet long. They each weigh about 400 pounds. .

    Chrissy Paape - SEI Staff at Space Explorers from De Pere, Wisconsin asks:
    Repeat Question: How deep is Vollis Merinaris?

    Valles Marineris is much deeper than the Grand Canyon on Earth. I would say it is about 8 km deep, which is about 26,000 feet. That's around the same height that airplanes fly on Earth, so that next time you fly in a plane and look down, that's how deep Valles Marineris is.

    Brian Dannemiller - Moderator at Space Ed from De Pere, Wisconsin writes:
    Thank you once again for joining us. The chat room will now be closing.

    Brian Dannemiller - Moderator at Space Ed from De Pere, Wisconsin writes:
    11/6/2003 1:47:56 PM - Room closed by Moderator. Thank you for your participation.

    Added after the chat:
    Athena Dicus' middle school class at Stewart Middle School in Tampa, Florida asks:
    Why does Mars have 1/2 the gravity of Earth, and how does that affect the speed of the rover?

    The gravity on Mars is actually about 1/3 that on Earth, 3.7 m/s versus 9.8 m/s. The gravity of a planet is a function of the mass of a planet, so because Mars is smaller than the Earth it has a corresponding smaller gravity. The rover speed on Mars is essentially the same as that on the Earth so gravity differences won't affect the rover speed.

    Added after the chat:
    Athena Dicus' middle school class at Stewart Middle School in Tampa, Florida asks:
    What is the purpose of sending the Rover to Mars?

    We are sending each rover to a place on Mars where we think there was past water activity. After landing, each rover will search for rocks and soils that would support or refute this hypothesis about each site. If we do find evidence for past water activity, then we hope to learn what the conditions were like in the past and if life could have survived in the past under these conditions.

     
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