Last week, the Planetary Society’s Red Rover Goes to Mars Student
Scientists made planetary exploration history. They were the first
members of the public to direct a camera aboard a spacecraft orbiting
another world, the NASA Mars Global Surveyor (MGS). One of the
pictures they targeted shows something new about the planet’s surface
— a surprising cluster of dark-colored boulders smack dab in the
middle of light-colored terrain. How the boulders got there and what
geological history they represent on Mars are questions scientists
still need to answer.

"It’s puzzling," said Michael Carr of the US Geological
Survey. "I looked at a few pictures around [the area] and
couldn’t find anything to explain it. Very puzzling! These are huge
boulders. There are no indications of any outcrops that could shed
such boulders."

"Wow! These have me totally stumped," commented Ron Greeley
of Arizona State University. "Not only is the dark color of the
boulders a surprise, but they appear totally out of context in the
surrounding terrain. There is nothing in the rest of the image to
suggest a source for such large boulders, nor their arrangement on
the surface."

The Red Rover Goes to Mars Training Mission is comprised of an
international team of nine students — aged 10 – 16 years old. They
gathered in Carlsbad, California during the week of February 11-17 to
work at Malin Space Science Systems, which built and operates the
camera on MGS, to select and image several sites on the Martian

Michael Malin, of Malin Space Science Systems, remarked, "The
location and nature of these boulders is unusual, but their shape and
distribution — in respect to the slope upon which they sit — is
consistent with a boulder shattered by weathering. The fall to their
present location could also have broken the boulders apart. The
mystery is why so much of the rest of the slope is smooth and devoid
of blocks."

At Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego, the team imaged three
sites that coincided with the MGS spacecraft’s orbital position
during the week of their visit, as well as another site that the
students deemed a candidate landing site for a possible sample return
mission at some future date. That image will be taken when the MGS
spacecraft’s orbit takes it past the target area some time in the
next five months. Michael Malin, Ken Edgett, and Becky Williams of
Malin Space Science Systems personally supervised the Student

While all three images of Mars taken last week by the Student
Scientists are fascinating, one is particularly intriguing as much
for its simplicity as for its implications. That view of fretted
terrain includes the Nilosyrtis Mensae Valleys, sand dunes and the
mysterious black boulders, which are clustered in the lower left hand
portion of the image in a tight grouping.

The Student Team captioned the image on Malin Space Science Systems’

"This image was taken in the fretted terrain area located in the
middle latitudes of Mars. Interesting features in this area are
dunes, valleys, and mysterious black boulders that are as big as 15
to 25 meters (49 to 82 feet). The puzzling position of these
mysterious rocks and the lack of our ability to understand how they
got there reminds us how much there is still left to discover about
our mystery planet."

The other two Student Scientist-directed images of Mars include a
view of what may be alluvial fan material, with evidence of possible
flowing water, and the layered terrain of the polar ice cap.

All of the images, including a close-up of the mystery boulders, can
be accessed on The Planetary Society’s website at

The Student Scientists were selected from over ten thousand entrants
worldwide. The team includes four girls and five boys who hail from
around the globe: Brazil, Hungary, India, Poland, Taiwan, and the
United States. These young people were chosen from a field of 80
semi-finalists, who represented 16 nations. Forty-four nations
participated in the contest.

LEGO is a principal sponsor of the Red Rover Goes to Mars project of
the Society, which is being conducted in cooperation with NASA and
the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. LEGOLAND California also helped
sponsor the Student Scientists’ visit to the United States. No
government funding is used for this educational project. Mars Global
Surveyor is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena,

Reports about the Red Rover Goes to Mars Training Mission are
available on The Planetary Society’s website at

The Red Rover Goes to Mars team members are Zsofia Bodo, 16, Hungary;
Kimberly DeRose, 14, USA; Bernadett Gaal, 14, Hungary; Shaleen
Harlalka, 15, India; Iuri Jasper, 12, Brazil; Hsin-Liu Kao, 11,
Taiwan; Tanmay Khirwadkar, 13, India; Wojciech Lukasik, 10, Poland;
and Vikas Sarangadhara, 10, India.


The Red Rover Goes to Mars program is an outgrowth of the Red Rover,
Red Rover program — a joint development of The Planetary Society,
the Center for Self-Organizing and Intelligent Systems at Utah State
University, Visionary Products, Inc., and the LEGO Company. Using
computers linked through the Internet, students teleoperate robotic
rovers built from LEGO Dacta components. Over 400 Red Rover, Red
Rover sites are already established in classrooms and science centers

Red Rover Goes to Mars is sponsored by The Planetary Society and the
LEGO Company, with Liberte Yogurt of Canada, Science Magazine, and
the AAAS Directorate for Education and Human Resources, in
cooperation with NASA, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Malin Space
Science Systems, ASU Mars K-12 Education Program, and Visionary
Products, Inc., and with the support of Varig Airlines, Sundance
Stage Lines, Inc., and Nogales Unified School District #1. The LEGO
Company has been a principal partner with The Planetary Society in
the development of Red Rover, Red Rover.

Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray and Louis Friedman founded The Planetary
Society in 1980 to advance the exploration of the solar system and to
continue the search for extraterrestrial life. With 100,000 members
in over 140 countries, the Society is the largest space interest
group in the world.

The Planetary Society
65 N. Catalina Ave.
Pasadena, CA 91106-2301
Tel:  (626) 793-5100
Fax:  (626) 793-5528