Rock size-frequency distributions on Mars and implications for Mars Exploration Rover landing safety and operations

M. P. Golombek, A. F.C. Haldemann, N. K. Forsberg-Taylor, E. N. DiMaggio, R. D. Schroeder, B. M. Jakosky, M. T. Mello, J. R. Matijevic

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120 Scopus citations


The cumulative fractional area covered by rocks versus diameter measured at the Pathfinder site was predicted by a rock distribution model that follows simple exponential functions that approach the total measured rock abundance (19%), with a steep decrease in rocks with increasing diameter. The distribution of rocks >1.5 m diameter visible in rare boulder fields also follows this steep decrease with increasing diameter. The effective thermal inertia of rock populations calculated from a simple empirical model of the effective inertia of rocks versus diameter shows that most natural rock populations have cumulative effective thermal inertias of 1700-2100 J m2 S-0.5 K-1 and are consistent with the model rock distributions applied to total rock abundance estimates. The Mars Exploration Rover (MER) airbags have been successfully tested against extreme rock distributions with a higher percentage of potentially hazardous triangular buried rocks than observed at the Pathfinder and Viking landing sites. The probability of the lander impacting a >1 m diameter rock in the first 2 bounces is <3% and <5% for the Meridiani and Gusev landing sites, respectively, and is <0.14% and <0.03% for rocks >1.5 m and >2 m diameter, respectively. Finally, the model rock size-frequency distributiolns indicate that rocks >0.1 m and >0.3 m in diameter, large enough to place contact sensor instruments against and abrade, respectively, should be plentiful within a single sol's drive at the Meridiani and Gusev landing sites.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)ROV 27-1 - ROV 27-23
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Planets
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 25 2003

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Geophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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