It’s official – the Mars Rover, Spirit, is stuck in the mud. Well…sand, but that’s not an amusing cliché. Trapped in the sands of the Martian desert, Spirit has been unable to move for ten months, and has now been declared a “stationary research platform”. The news doesn’t seem to have reached the official NASA Mars Exploration Rover site, but you can find the announcement on their news page.
It seems unlikely we’ll hear much more about Spirit now until it’s covered with enough dust that it cannot recharge via solar power and goes silent forever – or at least until there’s a stiff breeze (as my beloved pointed out, this is not unlike what happens to Wall-E). But it’s striking how the language NASA uses is very…well, very Yes Minister. Spirit isn’t “dead” or “stuck”, it’s “no longer a fully mobile robot”; it’s not “retired”, it’s “entered a new phase”. I kept expecting to hear that it was “very happy with its brave decision” and that we can expect more reports from Spirit “in the fullness of time”. Or even: “Spirit’s close colleague, Opportunity, has not been available for comment.”
But for the definitive last word on the end of Spirit’s active life, I must pass you on to that ever excellent web comic XKCD; their piece on the subject is simply titled “Spirit“.
The Earth is, of course, always moving, but sometimes bits of it move relative to the rest of it. That just happened right here in inner suburban Melbourne – an earth tremor, I’m guessing nor more than 1 or 2 on the Richter scale, which lasted for less than half a minute. Reports via web 2.0 – Twitter, Facebook status, that sort of thing – indicate it hit a reasonably wide area centred on the inner northern suburbs.
It’s not the first time Melbourne has felt such a thing; a tremor hit the eastern suburbs in October 2006, much further out of the city. I was hoping to read up on it and tell you all about the plate tectonics of Victoria, but unfortunately the Geoscience Australia web site isn’t responding (let’s hope it’s just because they’re busy analysing the new data!). I’ll update with more info when I can.
UPDATE: Well, my estimate was way off: turns out the quake was rated 4.6 (much lower and we’d have hardly noticed it), we no longer use the “Richter scale” (its a Magnitude Moment), and this one occured 8 kilometres down near Korumburra. No, I didn’t know where that is either; turns out it’s in South Gippsland, near the Strzelecki Ranges. You can find the lattitude and longitude on the Geoscience Australia web site, in the list of recent earthquakes (we have a lot of them!). With thanks to the ever-reliable and always interesting Clem Bastow, who shared knowledge via Twitter. Hard to imagine not knowing more about this sort of thing instantly via the Internet, these days!