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Image: Spirit studies trench
NASA - JPL
The Spirit rover positions its instrument-equipped robotic arm over the trench it dug in the soil of Mars' Gusev Crater. This view was captured by the NASA probe's hazard avoidance camera.
updated 2/22/2004 5:59:49 PM ET 2004-02-22T22:59:49

NASA’s Spirit rover began investigating a trench Saturday to see if the minerals inside it can provide clues about whether there was once enough water in the area to support life.

The robot spent about two hours digging the 3-inch (7.5-centimeter) trench Friday by running a front wheel back and forth over a stretch of ground in a depression. On Saturday, it studied the trench with a microscopic imager and its Mossbauer spectrometer, a German-built instrument that measures the composition and abundance of iron-bearing minerals.

“Some minerals will be made out of one type of iron or another, and the type of mineral will change based on whether or not there was liquid water in the environment,” mission manager Jim Erickson said Saturday during a teleconference from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.

Sprit was to further investigate the trench Sunday and Monday, then continue toward a crater scientists have named “Bonneville,” about 445 feet (135 meters) away.

On the other side of Mars, Spirit’s twin rover, Opportunity, drove the final 13 inches (33 centimeters) Saturday to be in place to examine a rock called “El Capitan,” part of a bedrock outcropping.

Studies of El Capitan with instruments including the rover’s rock abrasion tool will occur over several days. NASA was expected to conduct the first test of the device Monday.

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