Space

January 24, 2014

NASA’s Opportunity Rover yields more data on changes to Mars’ environment

nasa-mars
New findings from rock samples collected and examined by NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity have confirmed an ancient wet environment that was milder and older than the acidic and oxidizing conditions told by rocks the rover examined previously.

In this week’s edition of the journal Science, Opportunity Deputy Principal Investigator Ray Arvidson, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis, writes in detail about the discoveries made by the rover and how these discoveries have shaped our knowledge of the planet. According to Arvidson and others on the team, the latest evidence from Opportunity is landmark.

“These rocks are older than any we examined earlier in the mission, and they reveal more favorable conditions for microbial life than any evidence previously examined by investigations with Opportunity,” said Arvidson.

While the Opportunity team celebrates the rover’s 10th anniversary on Mars, they also look forward to what discoveries lie ahead and how a better understanding of Mars will help advance plans for human missions to the planet in the 2030s.

Opportunity’s original mission was to last only three months. On the day of its 10th anniversary on the Red Planet, Opportunity is examining the rim of the Endeavour Crater. It has driven 24 miles from where it landed on Jan. 24, 2004. The site is about halfway around the planet from NASA’s latest Mars rover, Curiosity.

To find rocks for examination, the rover team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., steered Opportunity in a loop, scanning the ground for promising rocks in an area of Endeavour’s rim called Matijevic Hill. The search was guided by a mineral-mapping instrument on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which did not arrive at Mars until 2006, long after Opportunity’s mission was expected to end.

Beginning in 2010, the mapping instrument, called the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars, detected evidence on Matijevic Hill of a clay mineral known as iron-rich smectite. The Opportunity team set a goal to examine this mineral in its natural context – where it is found, how it is situated with respect to other minerals and the area’s geological layers – a valuable method for gathering more information about this ancient environment. Researchers believe the wet conditions that produced the iron-rich smectite preceded the formation of the Endeavor Crater about 4 billion years ago.

“The more we explore Mars, the more interesting it becomes. These latest findings present yet another kind of gift that just happens to coincide with Opportunity’s 10th anniversary on Mars,” said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA’s Mars Exploration Program. “We’re finding more places where Mars reveals a warmer and wetter planet in its history. This gives us greater incentive to continue seeking evidence of past life on Mars.”

Opportunity has not experienced much change in health in the past year and the vehicle remains a capable research partner for the team of scientists and engineers who plot each day’s activities to be carried out on Mars.

“We’re looking at the legacy of Opportunity’s first decade this week, but there’s more good stuff ahead,” said Steve Squyres of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., the mission’s principal investigator. “We are examining a rock right in front of the rover that is unlike anything we’ve seen before. Mars keeps surprising us, just like in the very first week of the mission.”

JPL manages the Mars Exploration Rover Project for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Opportunity’s twin, Spirit, which worked for six years, and their successor, Curiosity, also contributed valuable information about the diverse watery environments of ancient Mars, from hot springs to flowing streams. NASA’s Mars orbiters Odyssey and MRO study the whole planet and assist the rovers.

“Over the past decade, Mars rovers have made the Red Planet our workplace, our neighborhood,” said John Callas, manager of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Project, which built and operates Opportunity. “The longevity and the distances driven are remarkable. But even more important are the discoveries that are made and the generation that has been inspired.”




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


 
 

 

Headlines August 1, 2014

News: Military downsizing leaves U.S. too weak to counter global threats, panel finds - An independent panel appointed by the Pentagon and Congress said July 31 that President Obama’s strategy for sizing the armed services is too weak for today’s global threats. Defense industry funds flow to contenders for key House chairmanships - Four of the top...
 
 

News Briefs August 1, 2014

China allows foreign reporters at news conference Foreign reporters are being allowed to attend China’s Defense Ministry briefings for the first time, marking a small milestone in the increasingly confident Chinese military’s efforts to project a more transparent image. Restrictions still apply and there is no sign of an improvement in the generally paltry amount...
 
 
Army photograph by John Andrew Hamilton

Rapid Equipping Force, PEO Soldier test targeting device at White Sands Missile Range

Army photograph by John Andrew Hamilton SFC Justin Rotti, a combat developer from the Training and Doctrine Command Fire Cell, Fires Center of Excellence, uses a developmental hand held precision targeting device during a test ...
 

 

NASA awards modification for geophysics, geodynamics, space geodesy support contract

NASA has awarded a modification to Stinger Ghaffarian Technologies Inc. of Greenbelt, Md. to continuing working the the Geophysics, Geodynamics and Space Geodesy Support Services contract. The maximum ordering value of the GGSG contract will increase to $76.8 million. The previous amount was $49.5 million. The increase in the maximum ordering value of the contract...
 
 
boeing-japan

Boeing, All Nippon Airways finalize order for 40 wide-body airplanes

  Boeing and All Nippon Airways July 31 finalized an order for 40 widebody airplanes – 20 777-9Xs, 14 787-9 Dreamliners and six 777-300ERs (Extended Range) – as part of the airline’s strategic long-haul fleet ren...
 
 

Excalibur Ib enters full rate production, receives $52 million award

TUCSON, Ariz., July 31, 2014 /PRNewswire/ — Raytheon’s Excalibur Ib precision guided projectile has entered full rate production. U.S. Army approval of FRP completes Excalibur Ib’s low rate initial production phase. †Additionally, the U.S. Army has awarded Raytheon $52 million for continued Excalibur Ib production. “The full rate production decision is the culmination ...
 




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>