About four years ago a pair of robots, who began life as MER-A and MER-B, landed on Mars, starting a 90 day mission. That was one of the most exciting Januaries I’ve ever experienced! (It’s hard to top the successful landings of two probes on another planet in 3 weeks!!)
About 5 months ago a planet-wide dust storm gave us cause for concern – it had the potential to kill both of the rovers. Happily both survived. In fact, the weather is why we’ve run so long – as much dust as the winds have dropped on our babies, the winds have also kept the panels clean enough to keep the rovers alive this long.
In two more weeks, there’s a chance that Mars will get hit by an asteroid. Chances of a strike vary according to sources, but the inside bet is: it’s going to be a fly by. In some ways scientists would really love to see a strike, to study an actual asteroid collision with a stony planet (not ours!). I’m kind of glad it’s likely to be a miss, as fascinating as it would be (and yes, I’d watch with a telescope if I could), it’d be tragic if either of the rovers were lost because of it.
I wonder… if Spirit or Opportunity will get a chance to photograph an asteroid – perhaps a temporary neighbor to Phobos and Deimos – as a 4th birthday present?
In any case: Happy Fourth Birthday Spirit, Opportunity, and Congratulations MER Team!!