Image: Spirit studies trench
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 2/23/2004 7:14:02 PM ET 2004-02-24T00:14:02

NASA’s Spirit rover continued probing a tiny Martian trench Sunday that may yield clues about whether there ever was water in the area, and was set to begin a 445-foot (135-meter) drive to a crater.

The rover was sending back data from a 3-inch (7.5-centimeter-deep) trench it studied with a microscopic imager and a Mossbauer spectrometer, an instrument that measures the composition and abundance of iron-bearing minerals.

Scientists hope the minerals can show whether the Red Planet’s ancient environment held liquid water for a long enough time to support the development of life. Spirit dug the trench by running its front wheel over the planet’s surface.

The robot was expected to begin driving early Monday toward a crater nicknamed “Bonneville,” a depression more than 650 feet (200 meters) wide. It will stop about midway at the edge of the area scientists are currently able to see and characterize.

“We don’t want to blindly keep moving on,” mission manager Jim Erickson said from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

Spirit’s twin, meanwhile, was investigating a rock dubbed “El Capitan,” part of a rocky outcropping on the other side of Mars.

The Opportunity rover will remain at El Capitan over the next several days, taking images and using its rock abrasion tool, known as a "RAT,” on at least three separate areas.

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