Headlines > News > Mars Rover Opportunity Trekking Toward More Layers

Mars Rover Opportunity Trekking Toward More Layers

Published by Klaus Schmidt on Fri Jun 7, 2013 5:34 pm via: NASA
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PASADENA, Calif. – Approaching its 10th anniversary of leaving Earth, NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity is on the move again, trekking to a new study area still many weeks away.

The destination, called “Solander Point,” offers Opportunity access to a much taller stack of geological layering than the area where the rover has worked for the past 20 months, called “Cape York.” Both areas are raised segments of the western rim of Endeavour Crater, which is about 14 miles (22 kilometers) in diameter.

NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity used its panoramic camera (Pancam) to acquire this view of "Solander Point" during the mission's 3,325th Martian day, or sol (June 1, 2013). Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ.

NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity used its panoramic camera (Pancam) to acquire this view of "Solander Point" during the mission's 3,325th Martian day, or sol (June 1, 2013). Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ.

“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.

Solander Point also offers plenty of ground that is tilted toward the north, which is favorable for the solar-powered rover to 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. The minimum-sunshine days of this sixth Martian winter for Opportunity will come in February 2014.

This map shows the 22.553-mile (36.295-kilometer) route driven by NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity from the site of its landing, inside Eagle crater at the upper left, to its location more than 112 months later, in late May 2013, departing the "Cape York" section of the rim of Endeavour crater. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/NMMNHS

This map shows the 22.553-mile (36.295-kilometer) route driven by NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity from the site of its landing, inside Eagle crater at the upper left, to its location more than 112 months later, in late May 2013, departing the "Cape York" section of the rim of Endeavour crater. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/NMMNHS

NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Project launched twin rovers in 2003: Spirit on June 10 and Opportunity on July 7. Both rovers landed in January 2004, completed three-month prime missions and began years of bonus, extended missions. Both found evidence of wet environments on ancient Mars. Spirit ceased operations during its fourth Martian winter, in 2010. Opportunity shows symptoms of aging, such as loss of motion in some joints, but continues to accomplish groundbreaking exploration and science.

Shortly before leaving Cape York last month, Opportunity used the rock abrasion tool, the alpha particle X-ray spectrometer and the microscopic imager on its robotic arm to examine a rock called “Esperance” and found a combination of elements pointing to clay-mineral composition.

NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity drove onto the "Cape York" segment of the rim of Endeavour Crater in August 2011 and departed Cape York in May 2013. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity drove onto the "Cape York" segment of the rim of Endeavour Crater in August 2011 and departed Cape York in May 2013. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

“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.”

Cape York exposes just a few yards, or meters, of vertical cross-section through geological layering. Solander Point exposes roughly 10 times as much. Researchers hope to find evidence about different stages in the history of ancient Martian environments. The rim of Endeavour Crater displays older rocks than what Opportunity examined at Eagle, Endurance, Victoria and Santa Maria craters during the first eight years of the rover’s work on Mars.

JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Exploration Rover Project for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

This image from the panoramic camera (Pancam) on NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity shows a pale rock called "Esperence," which was inspected by the rover in May 2013. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ.

This image from the panoramic camera (Pancam) on NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity shows a pale rock called "Esperence," which was inspected by the rover in May 2013. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ.

A stereo pair of images from taken from Mars orbit were used to generate a digital elevation model that is the basis for this simulated perspective view of "Cape York," "Botany Bay," and "Solander Point" on the western rim of Endeavour Crater. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UA/OSU

A stereo pair of images from taken from Mars orbit were used to generate a digital elevation model that is the basis for this simulated perspective view of "Cape York," "Botany Bay," and "Solander Point" on the western rim of Endeavour Crater. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UA/OSU

NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity used its navigation camera to acquire this view looking toward the southwest on the mission's 3,315th Martian day, or sol (May 21, 2013). Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity used its navigation camera to acquire this view looking toward the southwest on the mission's 3,315th Martian day, or sol (May 21, 2013). Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

This map of a portion of the western rim of Endeavour Crater on Mars shows the path of NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity as the rover is driving from the "Cape York" segment of the rim to its next destination, the "Solander Point" segment. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ.

This map of a portion of the western rim of Endeavour Crater on Mars shows the path of NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity as the rover is driving from the "Cape York" segment of the rim to its next destination, the "Solander Point" segment. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ.

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