Space

December 5, 2012

NASA Opportunity rover finishes walkabout on Mars crater rim

The latest work assignment for NASA’s long-lived Mars rover Opportunity is a further examination of an area where the robot just completed a walkabout.

“If you are a geologist studying a site like this, one of the first things you do is walk the outcrop, and that’s what we’ve done with Opportunity,” said Steve Squyres, the mission’s principal investigator at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

Coming up on its ninth anniversary, Opportunity still is a capable robotic explorer. It has been investigating a crater-rim site where observations from orbiting Mars spacecraft detected traces of clay minerals, which form under wet, non-acidic conditions that can be favorable for life. The rover’s current activities were presented at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.

The rover team chose this site as a driving destination years earlier. The site is named Matijevic Hill in honor of the late Jacob Matijevic, who led the engineering team for the twin Mars exploration rovers Spirit and Opportunity for several years.

Opportunity drove about 1,160 feet in a counterclockwise circuit around Matijevic Hill in October and November, bringing the total miles driven on the mission to 22 miles. Researchers used the rover to survey the extent of Matijevic Hill outcrops and identify the best places to investigate further.

“We’ve got a list of questions posed by the observations so far,” Squyres said. “We did this walkabout to determine the most efficient use of time to answer the questions. Now we have a good idea what we’re dealing with, and we’re ready to start the detailed work.”

The hill is on the western rim of Endeavour Crater, a bowl 14 miles in diameter. An impact from a celestial object dug this crater more than 3 billion years ago, pushing rocks onto the rim from a greater depth than Opportunity reached during its first several years on Mars. Since the impact, those rocks may have been altered by environmental conditions. Sorting out the relative ages of local outcrops is a key to understanding the area’s environmental history.

“Almost nine years into a mission planned to last for three months, Opportunity is fit and ready for driving, robotic-arm operations and communication with Earth,” said the mission’s deputy project scientist, Diana Blaney, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

Two outcrops of high interest on Matijevic Hill are “Whitewater Lake” and “Kirkwood.” Whitewater Lake is light-toned material that science team members believe may contain clay. Kirkwood contains small spheres with composition, structure and distribution that differ from other iron-rich spherules, nicknamed blueberries, that Opportunity found at its landing site and throughout the Meridiani Planum area it has explored. Squyres calls the Kirkwood spheres “newberries.”

“We don’t know yet whether Whitewood Lake and Kirkland are from before or after the crater formed,” he said. “One of the most important things to work out is the order and position of the rock layers to tell us the relative ages. We also need more work on the composition of Whitewater and debris shed by Whitewater to understand the clay signature seen from orbit, and on the composition of the newberries to understand how they formed.”

NASA launched Spirit and Opportunity in 2003. Both completed their three-month prime missions in April 2004 with Spirit ceasing operations in 2010. The mission’s goal is to learn about the history of wet environments on ancient Mars. JPL manages the Mars Exploration Rover Project for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

 




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 
Image courtesy of NASA, J. Lotz, (STScI

NASA’s Hubble finds extremely distant galaxy through cosmic magnifying glass

Image courtesy of NASA, J. Lotz, (STScI The mammoth galaxy cluster Abell 2744 is so massive that its powerful gravity bends the light from galaxies far behind it, making these otherwise unseen background objects appear larger a...
 
 
NASA photograph

NASA TV to air Russian spacewalk from International Space Station

NASA photograph Expedition 41 Commander Max Suraev and Flight Engineer Alexander Samokutyaev of the Russian Federal Space Agency will don Orlan spacesuits and step outside the International Space Station Oct. 22, to perform wor...
 
 
Ball Aerospace photograph

Ball Aerospace green propellant infusion mission to host three DOD space experiments

Ball Aerospace photograph The NASA and Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. Green Propellant Infusion Mission (GPIM) will fly three Defense Department experimental hosted payloads when it launches in 2016. The NASA and Ball ...
 

 
Photograph by NASA, Lockheed Martin Solar & Astrophysics Laboratory

NASA spacecraft provides new information about sun’s atmosphere

Photograph by NASA, Lockheed Martin Solar & Astrophysics Laboratory NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory provided the outer image of a coronal mass ejection on May 9, 2014. The IRIS spacecraft. The IRIS mission views the int...
 
 
University of Colorado/NASA photograph

NASA mission provides its first look at Martian upper atmosphere

University of Colorado/NASA photograph Three views of an escaping atmosphere, obtained by MAVEN’s Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph. By observing all of the products of water and carbon dioxide breakdown, MAVEN’s remote ...
 
 
Image courtesy of NASA, ESA, and G. Bacon (STScI)

NASA’s Hubble Telescope finds potential Kuiper Belt targets for New Horizons Pluto mission

Image courtesy of NASA, ESA, and G. Bacon (STScI) This is an artist’s impression of a Kuiper Belt object (KBO), located on the outer rim of our solar system at a staggering distance of 4 billion miles from the Sun. A HST surv...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>