NASA’s renowned Mars rover Opportunity has been spied anew in a fabulous new photo captured just days ago by NASA’s ‘Spy in the Sky’ orbiter circling overhead the Red Planet. See Opportunity from above and below – from today’s location. See orbital view above – just released today.
The highly detailed image was freshly taken on Feb. 14 (Valentine’s Day 2014) by the telescopic High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) as the decade old Opportunity was investigating the tasty alien terrain on ‘Murray Ridge’ – nearby the celebrated ‘jelly doughnut’ rock by the summit of Solander Point. See surface views below.
The fabulous orbital image shows not only rover Opportunity at her location today, but also the breathtaking landscape around the robots current location as well as some of the wheel tracks created by the Martian mountaineer as she climbed from the plains below up to near the peak of Solander Point.
The scene is narrowly focused on a spot barely one-quarter mile (400 meters) wide.
Murray Ridge and Solander Point lie at the western rim of a vast crater named Endeavour that spans some 22 kilometers (14 miles) in diameter.
Here is the corresponding Martian surface view snapped by Opportunity on Feb. 16, 2014 (looking back and down to Endeavour crater), while she’s being imaged from Mars orbit on Feb. 14, 2014:
Endeavour is an impact scar created billions of years ago. See our 10 Year Opportunity traverse map below.
And believe it or not, that infamous ‘jelly doughnut’ rock was actually the impetus for this new imaging campaign by NASA’s MRO Martian ‘Spysat.’
To help solve the mystery of the origin of the shiny 1.5 inches wide (4 centimeters) ‘jelly doughnut’ rock, dubbed ‘Pinnacle Island’, the science team decided to enlist the unparalleled capabilities of the HiRISE camera and imaging team in pursuit of answers.
‘Pinnacle Island’ had suddenly appeared out of nowhere in a set of before/after pictures taken by Opportunity’s cameras on Jan, 8, 2014 (Sol 3540), whereas that exact same spot had been vacant of debris in photos taken barely 4 days earlier. And the rover hadn’t budged a single millimeter.
So the HiRISE research team was called in to plan a new high resolution observation of the ‘Murray Ridge’ area and gather clues about the rocky riddle.
The purpose was to “check the remote possibility that a fresh impact by an object from space might have excavated a crater near Opportunity and thrown this rock to its new location”- now known as Pinnacle Island, said NASA in a statement.
Well, no fresh crater impacting site was found in the new image.
“We see no obvious signs of a very recent crater in our image, but a careful comparison to prior images might reveal subtle changes,” wrote HiRISE principal investigator Alfred McEwen in a description today.
In the meantime, as I reported here a few days ago the mystery was solved at last by the rover team after Opportunity drove a short distance away from the ‘jelly doughnut’ rock and snapped some ‘look back’ photographs to document the ‘mysterious scene’ for further scrutiny.
It turns out that the six wheeled Opportunity unknowingly ‘created’ the mystery herself when she drove over a larger rock, crushing and breaking it apart with the force from the wheels and her hefty 400 pound (185 kg) mass.
“Once we moved Opportunity a short distance, after inspecting Pinnacle Island, we could see directly uphill an overturned rock that has the same unusual appearance,” said Opportunity Deputy Principal Investigator Ray Arvidson of Washington University in St. Louis, in a NASA statement.
“Murray Ridge” and the Solander Point mountaintop are of great scientific interest because the region is riven with outcrops of minerals, including clay minerals, that likely formed in flowing liquid neutral water conducive to life – potentially a scientific goldmine.
Today, Feb 19, marks Opportunity’s 3582nd Sol or Martian Day roving Mars. She is healthy with plenty of power.
So far she has snapped over 188,800 amazing images on the first overland expedition across the Red Planet.
Her total odometry stands at over 24.07 miles (38.73 kilometers) since touchdown on Jan. 24, 2004 at Meridiani Planum.
Meanwhile on the opposite side of Mars, Opportunity’s younger sister rover Curiosity is trekking towards gigantic Mount Sharp and just crested over the Dingo Gap sand dune. She celebrated 500 Sols on Mars on New Years Day 2014.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Opportunity, Curiosity, Chang’e-3, LADEE, MAVEN, Mars rover, MOM and continuing planetary and human spaceflight news.