[meteorite-list] Mars Rover Opportunity Heads Uphill

From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Wed, 23 Oct 2013 16:13:46 -0700 (PDT)
Message-ID: <201310232313.r9NNDkZj009903_at_zagami.jpl.nasa.gov>


Mars Rover Opportunity Heads Uphill
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
October 23, 2013

Mars Exploration Rover Mission Status Report

PASADENA, Calif. -- NASA's Mars Exploration Rover has begun climbing
"Solander Point," the northern tip of the tallest hill it has
encountered in the mission's nearly 10 Earth years on Mars.

Guided by mineral mapping from orbit, the rover is exploring outcrops on
the northwestern slopes of Solander Point, making its way up the hill
much as a field geologist would do. The outcrops are exposed from
several feet (about 2 meters) to about 20 feet (6 meters) above the
surrounding plains, on slopes as steep as 15 to 20 degrees. The rover
may later drive south and ascend farther up the hill, which peaks at
about 130 feet (40 meters) above the plains.

"This is our first real Martian mountaineering with Opportunity," said
the principal investigator for the rover, Steve Squyres of Cornell
University, Ithaca, N.Y. "We expect we will reach some of the oldest
rocks we have seen with this rover -- a glimpse back into the ancient
past of Mars."

The hill rises southward as a ridge from Solander Point, forming an
elevated portion of the western rim of Endeavour Crater. The crater
spans 14 miles (22 kilometers) in diameter. The ridge materials were
uplifted by the great impact that excavated the crater billions of years
ago, reversing the common geological pattern of older materials lying
lower than younger ones.

Key targets on the ridge include clay-bearing rocks identified from
observations by the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for
Mars, which is on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The observations
were specially designed to yield mineral maps with enhanced spatial

This segment of the crater's rim stands much higher than "Cape York," a
segment to the north that Opportunity investigated for 20 months
beginning in mid-2011.

"At Cape York, we found fantastic things," Squyres said. "Gypsum veins,
clay-rich terrain, the spherules we call newberries. We know there are
even larger exposures of clay-rich materials where we're headed. They
might look like what we found at Cape York or they might be completely

Opportunity reached Solander Point in August after months of driving
from Cape York. Researchers then used the rover to investigate a
transition zone around the base of the ridge. The area reveals contact
between a sulfate-rich geological formation and an older formation. The
sulfate-rich rocks record an ancient environment that was wet, but very
acidic. The contact with older rocks may tell researchers about a time
when environmental conditions changed.

Opportunity first explored the eastern side of Solander Point, then
drove back north and around the point to explore the western side. "We
took the time to find the best place to start the ascent," said
Opportunity's project manager, John Callas of NASA's Jet Propulsion
Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "Now we've begun that climb."

The rover began the climb on Oct. 8 and has advanced farther uphill with
three subsequent drives.

"We're in the right place at the right time, on a north-facing slope,"
Callas said. In Mars' southern hemisphere, a north-facing slope tilts
the rover's solar panels toward the sun during the Martian winter,
providing an important boost in available power.

During the most recent of the five winters that Opportunity has worked
on Mars, the rover spent several months without driving, safe on a
small, north-facing patch of northern Cape York. The area where the
rover is now climbing, however, offers a much larger north-facing area,
with plenty of energy-safe ground for the rover to remain mobile.
Opportunity is currently at a northward tilt of about 17 degrees.

In the coming Martian winter, daily sunshine will reach a minimum in
February 2014. The rover team plans a "lily pad" strategy to make use of
patches of ground with especially favorable slopes as places to recharge
the rover's batteries between drives.

Opportunity landed on Mars on Jan. 25, 2004 (Universal Time and EST;
Jan. 24, PST), three weeks after its twin, Spirit. Spirit was the first
Martian mountaineer, summiting a 269-foot (82-meter) hill in 2005.
Spirit ceased operations in 2010. NASA's newest Mars rover, Curiosity,
landed in 2012 and is currently driving toward a 3-mile-high
(5-kilometer-high) mountain.

Recent drives by Opportunity and Curiosity have taken the total distance
driven by NASA's four Mars rovers (including Sojourner in 1997) past 50
kilometers. The total on Oct. 21 was 31.13 miles (50.10 kilometers),
including 23.89 miles (38.45 kilometers) by Opportunity.

JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena,
manages the Mars Exploration Rover Project for NASA's Science Mission
Directorate. For more about Spirit and Opportunity, visit
http://www.nasa.gov/rovers and http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov . You can
follow the project on Twitter and on Facebook at:
http://twitter.com/MarsRovers and http://www.facebook.com/mars.rovers .

Guy Webster 818-354-6278
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
guy.webster at jpl.nasa.gov

Received on Wed 23 Oct 2013 07:13:46 PM PDT

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