Opportunity Snaps Gorgeous Vistas nearing the Foothills of Giant Endeavour Crater

by Ken Kremer on August 9, 2011

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Martian Vista from Opportunity nearing Endeavour Crater on Sol 2678 - August 2011
Large ejecta blocks from the nearby, small Odyssey crater are visible in the middle, foreground and are Opportunity’s next science target in this photo mosaic taken 2 martian days ago on Sol 2678 (Aug. 6). Opportunity is now less than 400 feet from the foothills of Endeavour Crater and will soon make first landfall at Spirit Point - off to the left. At Endeavour, Opportunity will investigate the oldest minerals deposits she has ever visited from billions of years ago and which may hold clues to environments that were potentially habitable for microbial life. This photo mosaic shows portions of the discontinuous crater rim – Cape Tribulation at right. Mosaic Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Marco Di Lorenzo/Kenneth Kremer

The epic multi-year trek of NASA’s Opportunity Mars rover to the gigantic Endeavour crater is nearly complete as the plucky rover blazes to within a football fields distance and first landfall at a spot dubbed “Spirit Point” – named in honor of her long lived twin sister “Spirit”. Endeavour beckons because it may hold clues to a time billions and billions of years ago when Mars was warmer and wetter and harbored an environment that was far more conducive to the formation of life beyond Earth.

Opportunity is racing towards the western foothills of Endeavour’s rim and is at long last transmitting stunningly clear images of portions of the crater ridges, revealing gorgeous vistas and intriguing details up the sloped walls. See our new photo mosaics above and below.

As of today, Aug. 8 on Sol 2680 of the mission, the Martian robot is less than 400 feet (150 m) away from Endeavour’s rim at Spirit Point – which lies at the southern tip of one of the ridges known as “Cape York,” on the western side of Endeavour (see map and photo below). The humongous crater is 14 miles (22 km) in diameter.

“Our primary goal is to get onto the older material at Cape York with the phyllosilicate signatures in CRISM,” said Dr. Matt Golembek in an interview with Universe Today. Golembek is a Senior Research Scientist with the Mars Exploration Program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif.

The phyllosilicate signatures are based on observations by the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). Phyllosilicates are clay minerals that form in the presence of neutral water and that are more far more hospitable to the possible genesis of life compared to the rocks studied from the more highly acidic aqueous environments examined by the rover thus far.

Opportunity Rover Panoramic View nearing Endeavour Crater on Sol 2668
Opportunity was less than 0.3 miles (500 m) from the foothills of Endeavour Crater on Sol 2668 and will soon make first landfall at Spirit Point - off to the left. Endeavour holds minerals deposits from billions of years ago when Mars was far warmer and wetter and potentially more hospitable to the formation of ancient microbial life. This photo mosaic was stitched together to show portions of the discontinuous crater rim with segmented ridges from left to right. Distant Iazu crater is faintly visible at top left. Opportunity is now transmitting highly detailed and clear images of Endeavour’s rim.
Mosaic Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Marco Di Lorenzo/Kenneth Kremer

In mid- 2008, Endeavour crater was chosen as the long term destination for Opportunity by the rover science team because it offers access to older geological deposits than any Opportunity has visited and investigated before. These mineral deposits include phyllosilicates.

Opportunity has been sprinting across the plains of Meridiani since departing her last major science stop at Santa Maria crater in March 2011. See our APOD here.

Opportunity is now heading to a spot called “Odyssey crater” on the way to Spirit Point. See JPL route map below.

“In the end of drive Navcams [navigation camera] from Sols 2678-9, large ejecta blocks on the rim of Odyssey crater are clearly visible and that is our next target to see what those blocks are made of,” Golembek told me.

“After that we will travel north into Cape York to better understand the older rocks in Cape York.”

The rover team is being very careful to not over plan the science activities to far in advance and are keeping their options open.

Eventually, Opportunity will scale the ridge and become the 2nd Martian mountain climber. Spirit was the first Earthly emissary to climb to the summit of a mountain on Mars.

“As we explore we will make more specific plans depending on what we see,” Golembek added.

Cape York and Spirit Point at Endeavour Crater
This oblique view with moderate vertical exaggeration shows the portion of the rim of Endeavour crater known as Spirit Point. The science and engineering team has driven Opportunity to a spot less than 400 feet from Spirit Point as of early August 2011. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

Measurements from orbiting spacecraft like MRO allowed the science team to target Opportunity more precisely toward those ridges of older exposures of rock outcrops and phyllosilicates observed along Endeavour’s western rim.

Given Opportunity’s rapid progress, it’s now almost certain that she will reach the phyllosiliocates before the Curiosity rover is even launched in Nov. 2011.

Endeavour’s crater rim is discontinuous and divided into a series of segmented mountainous ridges – making it all the more beautiful and a bonanza for science. See the new photo mosaics above and below stitched together by Marco Di Lorenzo and Ken Kremer, illustrating Opportunity’s current vistas.

The Spirit rover succumbed to the bitter Martian arctic-like cold weather during her 4th winter on Mars after roving nearly seven years across Gusev crater. In May 2011, NASA declared Spirit’s mission had concluded after no further communications were received.

Opportunity remains healthy, generates sufficient solar power and has traversed an unbelievable 20.6 miles or 33.2 km since landing on Jan. 24, 2004.

Opportunity Rover Traverse map to Sol 2676 – August 2011


Opportunity Rover Traverse map to Sol 2676 – August 2011

Read my continuing features about Mars starting here
Dramatic New NASA Animation Depicts Next Mars Rover in Action
Opportunity Rover Heads for Spirit Point to Honor Dead Martian Sister; Science Team Tributes
Opportunity Rover Completes Exploration of fascinating Santa Maria Crater
Opportunity Surpasses 30 KM Driving and Snaps Skylab Crater in 3 D

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

Anonymous August 9, 2011 at 10:59 AM

I hadn’t realised there were all these Australian place names on Mars!

Kevin Parker August 9, 2011 at 12:19 PM

I think that’s in keeping with the “Endeavour” theme, since Cook’s vessel was the first European ship to make it to Australia. (And none of these names are official, by the way, just what the Opportunity team uses to communicate amongst themselves and with us.)

Anonymous August 9, 2011 at 12:50 PM

You’re right in relation to the names relating to Cook’s expedition (eg Cape Tribulation was where the Endeavour was holed on a coral reef). However Cook wasn’t the first European to Australia by a very long shot. Look up Willem Janszoon and the Duyfken (1606), Dirk Hartog (1616), Willem de Vlamingh (1696) etc etc. To give Cook his due, he was the first to “claim” Australia as a European possession.

William Sparrow August 9, 2011 at 11:15 PM

Ah, ya gotta love those Dutch explorers!

Torbjörn Larsson August 10, 2011 at 8:54 AM

And their names!

Giovanni Abatematteo August 9, 2011 at 11:25 AM

how about a galilian place on mars?

d.w. kobza August 9, 2011 at 2:07 PM

kind of looks like around phoenix…only without the saguaros.

Tim McDaniel August 9, 2011 at 3:16 PM

A larger version of the first image is NASA’s Image of the Day at http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/imagegallery/image_feature_2032.html

The NASA image shows the light patches as being bright white. That can’t be carbon dioxide frost, can it? It’s most likely to be rock?

ken August 9, 2011 at 9:18 PM

thats a different image from a different sol

to warm for co2

Torbjörn Larsson August 9, 2011 at 10:28 PM

Not an expert, but it has been my impression that if it’s white it’s almost always overexposure. (Which in some cases are single pixels due to cosmic radiation impact.)

Some other cases may be coding problems, in transmission or (other) graphic processing. But then you see more distinctive patterns of color loss.

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