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Opportunity rover Days Away from Mars Mountain Quest

Opportunity rover’s view from very near the foothills of Solander Point looking along the rim and vast expanse of Endeavour Crater.  Solander Point is the 1st Martian Mountain NASA’s Opportunity will climb and the rovers next destination.  Solander Point may harbor clay minerals indicative of a past Martian habitable environment. This navcam mosaic was assembled from raw images taken on Sol 3374 (July 21, 2013).  Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)  See complete  panoramic mosaic below

Opportunity rover’s view from very near the foothills of Solander Point looking along the rim and vast expanse of Endeavour Crater. This area exhibits gypsum signatures and numerous blocks of intriguing rock. Solander Point is the 1st Martian Mountain NASA’s Opportunity will climb and the rovers next destination. Solander Point may harbor clay minerals indicative of a past Martian habitable environment. This navcam mosaic was assembled from raw images taken on Sol 3374 (July 21, 2013). Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com).
See complete panoramic mosaic below. Story updated with further details

Exactly a decade after blasting off for the Red Planet and discovering a wide swath of water altered rocks and minerals in the ensuing years by exploring countless craters large and small, NASA’s intrepid Opportunity rover is just days away from arriving at her next big quest – a Martian mountain named Solander Point that may possess the key chemical ingredients necessary to sustain Martian life forms.

“We are parked 200 meters away from the bench at Solander Point,” Ray Arvidson told Universe Today exclusively. Arvidson is the mission’s deputy principal scientific investigator from Washington University in St. Louis, Mo. Furthermore, this area exhibits signatures related to water flow.

Solander Point also represents ‘something completely different’ – the first mountain the intrepid robot will ever climb.

“This will be Opportunity’s first mountain and the view from the ridge crest should be spectacular,” wrote Larry Crumpler, a science team member from the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science, in his latest field report about the 10 years ongoing Mars Exploration Rover (MER) mission.

Indeed the rover is now just a few short drives southward from making landfall on the northern tip of the point in her current trek across the relatively flat plains around the rim of Endeavour crater.

“We are now only about 180 meters from the new mountain, Solander Point.”

Opportunity rover location in the latest MRO/HiRISE color image. The green line shows more or less the route we hope to take to the base of Solander point. Since it is only a couple of hundred meters away, we could be there is a couple of drives. Maybe by the end of next week. The label say "3374" but this is also roughly the location through 3379.

Opportunity rover location in the latest MRO/HiRISE color image. The green line shows more or less the route we hope to take to the base of Solander point. Since it is only a couple of hundred meters away, the rover could be there is a couple of drives. Maybe by the end of next week. The label say “3374” but this is also roughly the location through 3379. NASA/JPL/Larry Crumpler

But before moving onward, Arvidson explained that the rover will briefly pause here “at dark terrain” for some exciting science due to water related spectral observations from the CRISM instrument captured by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) circling overhead.

“CRISM data [from Mars orbit] shows a relatively deep 1.9 micrometer absorption feature due to H2O-bearing minerals,” said Arvidson.

This past spring, Opportunity made the historic discovery of clay minerals and a habitable environment on a low hill called Cape York at the rover’s prior stop along the rim of Endeavour crater.

Solander was selected as the robot’s next destination because it simultaneously offers a goldmine of science as well as north facing slopes – where Opportunity’s solar wings can more effectively soak up the sun’s rays to generate life giving electrical power during the next Martian winter.

But since Opportunity is currently generating plenty of power from her solar arrays and arriving with a bonus cushion of time before the looming onset of her 6th Martian winter, the team decided to take a small detour to the southeast and spend several sols (or Martian days) exploring an area of intriguing geology of outcrops, gypsum signatures and more on the bench surrounding the base of the mountain.

“We slowed down this week so that we could check out the rocks here where there is a strange hydration signature from orbital remote sensing,” says Crumpler.

“This is also an area that appears to have more large blocks in the HiRISE images [from Mars orbit], so we are checking out one of the blocks, “Black Shoulder”.

“We are hoping that the rocks on the ridge crest will be spectacular too,” notes Crumpler.

Opportunity rover’s view very near the foothills of Solander Point along the rim and vast expanse of Endeavour Crater.  Solander Point is the 1st Martian Mountain NASA’s Opportunity will climb and the rovers next destination. Solander Point may harbor clay minerals indicative of a past Martian habitable environment. This navcam panoramic mosaic was assembled from raw images taken on Sol 3374 (July 21, 2013).  Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

Opportunity rover’s view very near the foothills of Solander Point along the rim and vast expanse of Endeavour Crater. This area exhibits gypsum signatures and numerous blocks of intriguing rock. Solander Point is the 1st Martian Mountain NASA’s Opportunity will climb and the rovers next destination. Solander Point may harbor clay minerals indicative of a past Martian habitable environment. This navcam panoramic mosaic was assembled from raw images taken on Sol 3374 (July 21, 2013). Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

Opportunity is using the science instruments on her 3 foot ( 1 meter) long robotic arm to conduct brief in-situ investigations of “Black Shoulder” with the Microscopic Imager (MI) and the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS).

And …. it’s ‘Mountains Galore’ from here on out for the remainder of Opportunity’s Magnificent Mission to Mars.

Why? Because Opportunity is nearing the foothills of a long chain of eroded segments of the crater wall of Endeavour crater which spans a humongous 14 miles (22 kilometers) wide.

Solander Point may harbor deposits of phyllosilicate clay minerals – which form in neutral pH water – in a thick layer of rock stacks indicative of a past Martian habitable zone.

The rover team is discussing the best way to approach and drive up Solander.

“One idea is to drive part way up Solander from the west side of the rim, turn left and then drive down the steeper north facing slopes with the stratographic sections,” Ray Arvidson explained to Universe Today.

“That way we don’t have to drive up the relatively steeper slopes.”

“The rover can drive up rocky surfaces inclined about 12 to 15 degrees.”

“We want to go through the stratographic sections on the north facing sections,” Arvidson told me.

Opportunity rover moves closer to the foothills of Solander Point along the rim and vast expanse of Endeavour Crater.  The rover investigated one of the large rocks here with her microscopic imager and X-Ray spectrometer. Soon she will start climbing up Solander -  her 1st Martian Mountain ascent.  This navcam panoramic mosaic was assembled from raw images taken on Sol 3376 (July 23, 2013).  Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

Opportunity rover moves closer to the foothills of Solander Point along the rim and vast expanse of Endeavour Crater. The rover investigated one of the large rocks near here with her microscopic imager and X-Ray spectrometer. Soon she will start climbing up Solander – her 1st Martian Mountain ascent. This navcam panoramic mosaic was assembled from raw images taken on Sol 3376 (July 23, 2013).
Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

Today (July 28) is Sol 3380 for a mission that was only warrantied to last 90 Sols!

Opportunity’s total driving distance exceeds 23.6 miles (37.9 kilometers). She has snapped over 182,000 images.

The "work volume". This view from the front hazcams shows the rock target that is being checked out before the final slog to the south. With luck, by the end of next week we will be plinking around the base of yonder mountain. "Plinking" is a geological term for wandering around with your hammer trying to get a handle on the local outcrops before plunging ahead with mapping and asking the rocks serious questions.  Credit: NASA/JPL/Larry Crumpler

The “work volume”. This view from the front hazcams shows the rock target that is being checked out before the final slog to the south. With luck, by the end of next week we will be plinking around the base of yonder mountain. “Plinking” is a geological term for wandering around with your hammer trying to get a handle on the local outcrops before plunging ahead with mapping and asking the rocks serious questions. Credit: NASA/JPL/Larry Crumpler

Meanwhile on the opposite side of Mars at Gale Crater, Opportunity’s younger sister rover Curiosity also discovered a habitable environment originating from a time when the Red Planet was far warmer and wetter billions of years ago.

And like Opportunity, Curiosity is also trekking towards a mountain rich in sedimentary layers hoping to unveil the mysteries of Mars past. But Curiosity likely won’t arrive at 3.4 mile (5.5 km) high Mount Sharp for another year.

Ken Kremer

Traverse Map for NASA’s Opportunity rover from 2004 to 2013.  This map shows the entire path the rover has driven during more than 9 years and over 3374 Sols, or Martian days, since landing inside Eagle Crater on Jan 24, 2004 to current location near foothills of Solander Point at the western rim of Endeavour Crater.  Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/ASU/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer

Traverse Map for NASA’s Opportunity rover from 2004 to 2013
This map shows the entire path the rover has driven during more than 9 years and over 3374 Sols, or Martian days, since landing inside Eagle Crater on Jan 24, 2004 to current location near foothills of Solander Point at the western rim of Endeavour Crater. Opportunity discovered clay minerals at Esperance – indicative of a habitable zone. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/ASU/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer

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Learn more about Mars, Curiosity, Opportunity, LADEE, MAVEN, Antares and more at Ken’s upcoming lecture presentations

Aug 12: “RockSat-X Suborbital Launch, LADEE Lunar & Antares Rocket Launches from Virginia”; Rodeway Inn, Chincoteague, VA, 8 PM

About 

Dr. Ken Kremer is a speaker, scientist, freelance science journalist (Princeton, NJ) and photographer whose articles, space exploration images and Mars mosaics have appeared in magazines, books, websites and calanders including Astronomy Picture of the Day, NBC, BBC, SPACE.com, Spaceflight Now and the covers of Aviation Week & Space Technology, Spaceflight and the Explorers Club magazines. Ken has presented at numerous educational institutions, civic & religious organizations, museums and astronomy clubs. Ken has reported first hand from the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral and NASA Wallops on over 40 launches including 8 shuttle launches. He lectures on both Human and Robotic spaceflight - www.kenkremer.com. Follow Ken on Facebook and Twitter

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • DreadPirateZed July 28, 2013, 3:30 AM

    I read “Solander Point”, and I so want it to say Solsbury Hill

    • lcrowell July 28, 2013, 12:52 PM

      Great song. I was a big Peter Gabriel fan in the 80s. Damned that must mean I am starting to get a big old. Oh well, I might be getting older, but I got to see the really big cool bands.

      LC

  • lcrowell July 28, 2013, 12:42 PM

    This looks more like a hill or bluff than a mountain. It might though be a micro-data set for what Curiosity finds on Mt Sharp.

    LC

  • James Ph. Kotsybar July 28, 2013, 9:43 PM

    Talk about “Opportunity,” NASA wants to send my poem to Mars. Provided the public votes it worthy (and it’s stayed in the top 25 throughout). If you’re reading this, please take a moment to go to:

    http://lasp.colorado.edu/maven/goingtomars/entry/?13480

    and vote for my haiku:

    MAVEN tastes the air
    too thin to hold oceans’ broth
    wafted on Sol’s winds.

    It would mean a world to me and my poetic career.

    • kjellmakrell July 28, 2013, 11:13 PM

      I thought all the haikues would be sent. They can’t spare the ekstra 100 kilobytes on the chip?

    • Ken Kremer July 29, 2013, 1:24 AM

      Quite nice. Good luck! Watch for my continuing MAVEN reports and launch coverage from KSC

  • James Ph. Kotsybar July 28, 2013, 11:39 PM

    Everyone’s name will be included, but only the top three haiku, determined by public vote, will be sent. I think at least one should possess literary merit, like mine. In seventeen syllables, I’ve conveyed MAVEN’s mission and alluded to the meaning of “maven” as a connoisseur. Voting closes tomorrow, Please help.

    http://lasp.colorado.edu/maven/goingtomars/entry/?13480

  • alan martin July 29, 2013, 5:00 PM

    ‘Opportunity rover days away from Mars mountain quest’

    Spirit’s ghost: Been there, done that.

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