Rocks and soils on the surface are thought to be composed of minerals similar to those found on Earth's surface. One of the most important tools for recognizing these minerals is the spectrum of sunlight reflected by them. At the visible and near-infrared light wavelengths measured by the Imager for Mars Pathfinder (IMP), the most important coloring materials in the Martian surface are iron minerals. There are two broad classes of iron minerals. Minerals which occur in igneous rocks (such as pyroxene) have a relatively flat spectrum and they reflect only a small amount of light; they are said to have a low reflectance. Ferric iron minerals, which occur as weathering products, reflect longer-wavelength light and absorb short-wavelength light, hence their very red color. The relative brightnesses of Martian surface materials in IMP's different wavelength filter is a powerful tool for recognizing the iron minerals present.
Mars Pathfinder is the second in NASA's Discovery program of low-cost spacecraft with highly focused science goals. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA, developed and manages the Mars Pathfinder mission for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C. The Imager for Mars Pathfinder (IMP) was developed by the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory under contract to JPL. Peter Smith is the Principal Investigator. JPL is an operating division of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).
Photojournal note: Sojourner spent 83 days of a planned seven-day mission exploring the Martian terrain, acquiring images, and taking chemical, atmospheric and other measurements. The final data transmission received from Pathfinder was at 10:23 UTC on September 27, 1997. Although mission managers tried to restore full communications during the following five months, the successful mission was terminated on March 10, 1998.