Opportunity Starting 10th Anniversary With New Trek
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
NASA’s veteran rover Opportunity is trekking towards a new study area as it closes in on its 10th year anniversary.
The space agency said Opportunity is moving towards a destination known as Solander Point, which offers access to a taller stack of geological layering than the area the rover has been working at the past 20 months.
“Getting to Solander Point will be like walking up to a road cut where you see a cross section of the rock layers,” said Ray Arvidson of Washington University, St. Louis, deputy principal investigator for the mission.
This new area offers plenty of ground that is tilted towards the north, providing Opportunity with plenty of solar power so it can stay active and mobile through the coming Martian southern-hemisphere winter.
“We’re heading to a 15-degree north-facing slope with a goal of getting there well before winter,” said John Callas of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., project manager for the Mars Exploration Rover Project.
NASA said Opportunity is starting to show some signs of aging, such as loss of motion in some joints, but continues to accomplish groundbreaking exploration and science. The rover launched along with its twin, Spirit, back in 2003. Spirit ceased operations during its fourth Martian winter in 2010, but Opportunity will be closing in on its 10th year since launching on July 7, 2003.
Opportunity recently used its rock abrasion tool, the alpha particle X-ray spectrometer and the microscopic imager on its robotic arm to examine a rock known as “Esperance.” Results showed that this rock contained a clay-mineral composition.
“The Esperance results are some of the most important findings of our entire mission,” said Steve Squyres of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., principal investigator for the mission. “The composition tells us about the environmental conditions that altered the minerals. A lot of water moved through this rock.”
NASA said a unique thing about this rock was that there was enough water not only for reactions that produced clay minerals, but also enough to flush out ions set loose by those reactions.
As Opportunity leaves Cape York, researchers hope to find evidence about different stages in the history of ancient Martian environments by trekking through a vertical cross-section through geological layering. The rover will be driving alongside the rim of Endeavour Crater to its next destination. This rim displays older rocks than what Opportunity has examined during the first eight years of the rover’s work on the Red Planet.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the planet, Curiosity is beginning to move to an area about five miles away. NASA said earlier this week that its newest rover will be taking off towards Mount Sharp in the southwest on a trek that will last several months.
“We don´t know when we´ll get to Mount Sharp,” said Mars Science Laboratory Project Manager Jim Erickson of NASA´s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. “This truly is a mission of exploration, so just because our end goal is Mount Sharp doesn´t mean we´re not going to investigate interesting features along the way.”
Curiosity still has many years to catch up to Opportunity’s veteran status, but the rover will be closing in on its one-year anniversary of activity on the Red Planet in August.