[meteorite-list] NASA Opportunity Rover Finishes Walkabout On Mars Crater Rim

From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Tue, 4 Dec 2012 11:05:51 -0800 (PST)
Message-ID: <201212041905.qB4J5pkH017919_at_zagami.jpl.nasa.gov>

Dec. 4, 2012

Dwayne Brown
Headquarters, Washington
dwayne.c.brown at nasa.gov

Guy Webster
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
guy.webster at jpl.nasa.gov

RELEASE: 12-418


SAN FRANCISCO -- 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 (354 meters) in a counterclockwise
circuit around Matijevic Hill in October and November, bringing the
total miles driven on the mission to 22 miles (35.4 kilometers).
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
(22 kilometers) 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

"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 (JPL) 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.

For more information about Opportunity, visit


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Received on Tue 04 Dec 2012 02:05:51 PM PST

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