Opportunity’s Long and Winding Road to Endeavour Crater

by Nancy Atkinson on May 5, 2010

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Opportunity's view of the far-off rim of Endeavour Crater. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell University

Back in September of 2008, Mars Exploration Rover Principal Investigator Steve Squyres announced the Opportunity rover would head out to a large, faraway crater named Endeavour, and Squyres said he hoped to one day see the view from the rim. Well, Oppy has now provided an improved view OF the rim: off in the distance in the image above are the “Endeavour Hills,” the mounds which surround the perimeter of the crater, about 13 km (8 miles) away, along with the rim of an even more distant crater, Iazu, on the right.

As the crow flies, Endeavour is about 12 km away from Oppy’s starting point in 2008, Victoria Crater. But while the intrepid rover has already traveled 7 km towards Endeavour, it still has 12 km to go, as the route chosen to avoid potentially hazardous dune fields is more like 19km, as presently charted, said Guy Webster at JPL. You can see an example of Opportunity’s circuitous driving below.

Opportunity's tracks show how the rover avoided driving through potentially dangerous sand dunes. Credit: NASA/JPL/U of AZ


The original target timing for Opportunity reaching Endeavour was about two years, but since the science team has had the rover spend several weeks stopping at interesting targets of study along the way, the rover will definitely not make it to Endeavour by September 2010. It might take another year, or even two.

Additionally, it is now winter on Mars, and according to A.S.J. Rayl’s Rover Update from the Planetary Society, Opportunity is now roving for only about 30 minutes at a time, which enables it to cover only 30-to-50 meters on a drive sol. And, the rover is also taking Martian days off to re-charge its batteries. Record cold temps this winter (down to -37 C) on Mars is slowing the aging rover.

But back in March Oppy reached 20 kilometers (12.43 miles) of total driving in its 74 months on Mars. Pretty amazing for a piece of hardware that was supposed to last six months and drive about 600 meters. Later this month, Oppy will surpass the Viking Lander 1′s record of 6 years and 116 days to become the longest-lived robot on Mars. The Spirit rover has already surpassed that record, but it is unknown if the rover is only hibernating and we’ll hear from it when it warms up again, or if Spirit is no longer with us (sniff!).

Endeavour Crater is 21 kilometers (13 miles) in diameter, which is about 25 times wider than Victoria crater. The view in the top image is an area about 140 kilometers (about 90 miles) wide.

Orbital view of Opportunity's location from THEMIS. mage Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Arizona State University

This view shows a top-down look at the area from orbit, and is a mosaic of daytime infrared images taken by the Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) camera on NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter.

Additionally, a new gif “movie” was released this week showing how Oppy emerged from Victoria crater about a year and a half ago. Click here to see it.

Sources: JPL, Mars Rover homepage, Planetary Society

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also is the host of the NASA Lunar Science Institute podcast and works with Astronomy Cast. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

tacitus May 5, 2010 at 9:22 PM

Thanks for summarizing the latest news on Opportunity. A.S.J. Rayl’s Rover Update are way too long and rambling to digest properly, which is a shame because they have lots of information in them. He tends to get very repetitive too.

If you’re reading this A.S.J, why not split the updates into two — one for Spirit and one for Opportunity? At least then the articles would be more digestible and you would avoid jumping between the two rovers and repeating stuff that you already said in the earlier summaries.

Just a thought.

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