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Image: Bonneville in color
NASA / JPL / Cornell
A color panorama shows Bonneville crater, as seen from the rim by NASA's Spirit rover.
msnbc.com
updated 3/16/2004 10:42:53 PM ET 2004-03-17T03:42:53

The Spirit rover worked through its busiest Martian day yet, completing a record 43 observations, NASA said Monday. Among the pictures sent back was a breathtaking color panorama of the 650-foot-wide Bonneville crater as seen from its rim.

The photo was taken by Spirit's panoramic camera on Friday and released Monday. It will help scientists determine where to send the golfcart-sized rover over the next few days.

Spirit landed in Mars' 90-mile-wide (144-kilometer-wide) Gusev Crater on Jan. 3 and spent several weeks working its way toward Bonneville crater. During the workday ending early Monday, Spirit analyzed a soil target called "Gobi 1" with its Mossbauer spectrometer, made microscopic images of the spectrometer's "footprint" on the soil, conducted atmospheric observations and took additional pictures with its panoramic camera.

Spirit's previous record for observations in one Martian day was 31, NASA said.

By early Tuesday, Spirit is scheduled to drive 49.2 feet (15 meters) to a location known as "Serpent Dune" for further analysis.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the planet, the Opportunity rover was focusing on a rock called "Shark's Tooth," in the crater where it landed on Jan. 24. The rover is preparing to head out of the crater onto the hematite-rich plains of Meridiani Planum.

The rovers are hunting for further evidence that ancient Mars had enough water to sustain life. The $820 million mission was designed to last at least 90 days, but mission managers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory say the rovers could well keep going for 200 days or more.

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