The Footprint on Mars?

By | June 5, 2006

The Footprint on Mars

Do Martians wear size-11 shoes? Or do we have evidence that the Mars rover missions are merely a hoax ? an “X-Files” conspiracy as far-reaching as the fake trip to Mars portrayed in the movie “Capricorn One”?

One of the pictures in our latest “Month in Space” roundup led some readers to ask those kinds of questions. Toward the left edge of the 10th image in the set, you can make out a waffle-shoe kind of pattern in the sands of Meridiani Planum.

“I would like to know if anyone at MSNBC can explain why there is a footprint in the photo called ‘Ripples on the Road’ on the slide show?” one reader asked. “The caption states that the picture is from NASA’s Opportunity rover on Mars. Last I checked, humans haven’t been to Mars yet.” …

A closer look at the picture, such as the shot we’ve included here or the larger-resolution version from NASA, shows more clearly that the “footprint” is indeed the track of a rover wheel going over the rugged Martian terrain. The track doesn’t appear continuous because it goes over bedrock, and because the rover’s turns, stops and starts spoil the smooth impressions of the wheel tracks. The shades of Martian soil can also vary between light and dark ? a phenomenon that geologists are still puzzling over.

You can see the footprint effect more clearly in this “stretched-color” photo of Opportunity’s trail toward Victoria Crater. Crank the view up to full resolution for an even sharper view.

The footprints thus take their place among the alien-looking but not really alien features that have shown up in pictures sent back from the rovers, including bunny ears, rover rotini and blueberries. – msnbc

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