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What rover Spirit discovered on Mars (photos)

NASA finally pulled the plug on one of the greatest Mars explorers, the rover Spirit. Here's a look at some of the things it found during its life on the Red Planet.
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Topic: Innovation
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1 of 19 Andy Smith/ZDNet

On May 25, 2011 NASA finally pulled the plug on one of the world's greatest Mars explorers, the rover Spirit. The six-wheeled robot landed on Jan. 3, 2004 on the Red Planet and was expected to last about three months so NASA definitely got its money worth out of the little guy.

Here's a quick tour of some of the biggest discoveries and accomplishments made by Spirit. Here's one of the first looks sent back to Earth by Spirit a day after it landed. Note its air bags in this image.

Credit: NASA

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One of the more interesting phenomenoms encountered on Mars by Spirit is the existance of mini dust storms called "dust devils." Here's a movie of one captured in 2007.

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The "Home Plate" area investigated by Spirit showed evidence of volcanos as it showed coarse grains that were likely spread by an explosion falling on top of finer material in this enhanced image.

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Bedrock shown in this 2004 image shows a complex geological history. Some of them show signs of water erosion.

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n 2005, Spirit revealed this image of an area that contained sulfur and possibly a trace of water. It's most likely a volcanic deposit formed around gas vents.

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A few months after it landed, Spirit's left front tire began showing a problem by using much more energy than the others. Here, JPL engineers Eric Aguilar, left, and Joe Melko work in a sandbox to find a way around the problem. The wheel eventually died in 2006 but NASA scientists were able to keep it rolling on five wheels by driving it backwards and devising easier ways to turn.

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On a positive note, the dead wheel dug up Martian soil which enabled Spirit's most impressive discovery - a patch of nearly pure silica. This was most likely caused by hot springs or steam vents.

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Spirit contained a rock abrasion tool and was able to drill into 15 different rock samples and analyze them.

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Five years after this image was taken by Spirit in 2005, NASA scientists concluded that this area showed a past that was wet and non-acidic and could potentially sustain life as we know it. The rocks were identified as magnesium iron carbonate with a 10x higher concentration of carbonate that ever seen on Mars. NASA say "Carbonates originate in wet, near-neutral conditions, but dissolve in acid."

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A look at Husband Hill, the 269-foot peak climbed by Spirit.

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The view from the top of Husband Hill.

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More rock exposures. Spirit took these images while leaning at a 27-degree angle. NASA describes:  "(A) The northern edge of Home Plate, (B) the coarse-grained lower unit, (C) the fine-grained upper unit."

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This 2006 view of Spirit was taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbtier shows the robot at work in the region it explored.

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Here's an artist's conception of what Spirit would look like on Mars.

And here's a resume compiled by NASA of Spirit's accomplishments.

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Just after landing the camera perched on Spirit's mast took this picture of it from above.

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While unpacking itself on the Martian surface, Spirit took a closeup of one of its wheels.

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Here's one of the last photos taken by Spirit in 2010  as it was about to endure its fourth Martian winter. You can see it's stuck and NASA scientists were unable to move its solar panels directly toward the sun to sufficiently recharge the batteries. It went into a standby mode for the winter but was never heard from again.

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The rovers are leaving their mark on Mars. This track was taken on April 1, 2011by the other rover Opportunity that's still working despite signs of wear and tear. You can see it also has a damaged wheel. There's about 40 inches between the tracks.

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While on Mars, fans of Spirit were urged to send postcards to keep the little guy happy.

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