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To MARS with MER - RESEARCH/ers
"Mini-TES" instrument on the Mars Exploration Rovers
Science lead for the Terra Meridiani/Hematite landing site
(& Principal Investigator, THEMIS on Mars Odyssey, and TES, the Thermal Emission Spectrometer, on Mars Global Surveyor)
Arizona State University, Phoenix
Phil Christensen was the science spokesperson for the so-called "Hematite" site in the January 2002 site selection meetings (to be seen in the "To MARS with MER" videos), which ended up with a short list of 4 sites. Subsequently called "Terra Meridiani", Hematite was eventually selected as one of the 2 principal sites. P2K asked Phil what made it such a great site: "There's a mineral signature of something, and I really believe that mineralogy holds the key to what went on. And the mineralogy screams for water. There are some other ways you could make this hematite without water, but most of them have to do with water, and water for a long time. So, I really think it's the one place you can point and say 'darn good chance there was water here for a long time.' Let's go see what else we can see! So, that's the main one and the second one as well."
In contrast to some sites in the middle of Valles Marineris, (Mars' "Grand Canyon"), some people at first thought that Terra Meridiani might be less interesting as a place to land. But Phil was happy, nonetheless: "I think it has a danger of being very flat and boring from a scenic point of view, but scientifically I think it has a tremendous potential for being very interesting. And I'm not as concerned as some people are about it having to be have scenic potential because I think in the long run science is really what is going to captivate people rather than instantaneous 'Oh, wow!!! What a neat scene!' So I'm not worried about flat and boring."