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Mars Surveyor 2001 to Take First Sundial to Another Planet
Mars Surveyor 2001 to Take First Sundial to Another Planet
22 Apr 1999
(Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory)

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Contact: Mary Hardin

Inscribed with the motto "Two Worlds, One Sun," the first sundial to be sent to another planet will travel to Mars aboard NASA's Mars Surveyor 2001 lander.

The lander's panoramic camera will use features on the sundial as a virtual "test pattern" to help Earth-based operators calibrate the brightness and tint of the camera's images following its arrival on Mars in January 2002. Periodic pictures of the sundial will also reveal the passage of hours and seasons as the Sun moves across the salmon-colored Martian sky. In the process, the sundial could become one of the most photographed objects ever sent to another world.

"Our ancestors made astonishing discoveries about the nature of the heavens and our place in it by closely watching the motion of shadows," said Bill Nye, public television's "The Science Guy," who helped unveil the sundial design yesterday at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. "Now at the dawn of the next century, we can make observations of new shadows, this time on another planet."

The sundial will be about 8 centimeters (3 inches) square, and will weigh a little more than 60 grams (2 ounces). Made of aluminum to minimize its weight, the anodized metal surfaces will be black and gold. Photo etching and engraving will be used to apply lettering and drawings to the face and side panels of the sundial. Four side panels around the sundial's base are engraved with a message for future Mars explorers.

Black, gray and white rings in the center of the sundial and color tiles in the corners will be used as the calibration target to adjust the camera, called the Pancam. The rings are arranged to represent the orbits of Mars and Earth, and red and blue dots show the positions of the planets at the time of the landing in 2002. Mirrored segments along the outer ring of the sundial will also reveal the changing colors of the sky.

The Pancam is one of four instruments being developed for NASA's Mars Surveyor 2001 lander under the leadership of Steve Squyres, a Cornell professor of astronomy. Together these instruments form the Athena Precursor Experiment, which will test technologies to be used on the Athena Project. Athena, a rover aboard the 2003 and 2005 Mars Sample Return missions, will be used to determine which Martian rocks will be brought back to Earth later in the decade. The Mars Surveyor program is managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA.

The design of the sundial evolved through suggestions and drawings from children across the United States solicited by Sheri Klug, director of the Mars Education and Outreach Program at Arizona State University in Tempe. One idea suggested by children was that the sundial carry writing in many languages, representing the diverse cultures of Earth. Together these languages are used by more than three-quarters of Earth's population; also included are ancient Sumerian and Mayan, because Mars figured prominently in both of these cultures. Several children also suggested that stick-figure drawings be included, symbolizing the people of Earth. Artist Jon Lomberg from Hawaii combined stick figures drawn by children with other space-related motifs to create the series of drawings that appear on the sundial's side panels.

Other members of the sundial design team include Tyler Nordgren, an artist and astronomer at the U.S. Naval Observatory in Flagstaff, AZ; sundial expert Woodruff Sullivan, professor of astronomy at the University of Washington in Seattle; Louis Friedman, executive director of the Planetary Society, Pasadena, CA; and, Cornell University astronomer Jim Bell.

NASA's Mars Surveyor 2001 project consists of an orbiter and a lander. JPL manages the mission for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, DC. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology.

Information about the sundial and Mars Surveyor 2001 is available on the Internet:
Mars Surveyor 2001: http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/odyssey
Athena Precursor Experiment/Athena Project: http://athena.cornell.edu.

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Last Updated: 5 Jun 2001