NASA’s seemingly indestructible Opportunity rover has arrived at the breathtaking location where she’ll be working through her unfathomable 5th Martian Winter. The Opportunity Mars Exploration Rover has not only endured, but flourished for 8 years of unending “Exploration & Discovery” on the Red Planet despite having an expected lifetime at landing of just 3 months, way back in January 2004.
Opportunity is parked at a northward facing outcrop dubbed “Greeley Haven” where she can soak up the sun and juice her innards throughout the utterly harsh and Antarctic-like temperatures on tap for the next few months that threaten to kill her each and every Martian day. See our mosaic above around the Greeley Haven area.
Science team members told Universe Today that the rover is sitting at Greeley Haven because the site offers a roughly 15 degree tilt that will maximize the electric output from the life-giving solar arrays and also allow the robot to carry out a vigorous science campaign during the seasonal Martian winter season that officially begins in March.
Greeley Haven is a located at the northern tip of the “Cape York” segment of the western rim of the vast crater named Endeavour, some 14 miles (22 km) wide that’s loaded with a bountiful variety of rocks and soil that neither Opportunity nor her twin Spirit have ever touched and drilled into before and stem from an earlier epoch when liquid water flowed eons ago and perhaps may have been more favorable to sustaining life.
“Opportunity is currently sitting on Saddleback at Greeley Haven, an outcrop of impact breccias on Cape York, Endeavour crater’s rim,” Ray Arvidson told Universe Today. Arvisdon is the mission’s deputy principal investigator, of Washington University in St. Louis.
“Her northerly tilt is about ~15 degrees which is enough to have a vibrant winter campaign. The Martian southern winter solstice occurs at the end of March. A few months after that date we will drive her off the outcrop and further explore Cape York.”
“Greeley Haven” is named in tribute to planetary Geologist Ronald Greeley (1939-2011) who was a beloved member of the rover science team and a host of other NASA planetary missions. He taught at Arizona State University and inspired several generations of students and planetary scientists until his recent death on Oct. 27, 2011.
“We’ll hunker down at Greeley Haven as long as we need to, and we’ll do good science while we’re there,” Steve Squyres of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., told Universe Today. Squyres is the Principal Investigator for Opportunity.
Opportunity is collecting a high resolution 360 degree panorama to commemorate Greeley.
Throughout the past 4 Martian winters, Opportunity had continued to traverse without pause. But this winter time it’s different because the solar panels are significantly more coated with an obscuring layer of dust hindering their energy output.
So the rover is parked with a tilt for her 5th Martian winter, mimicking the successful strategy power boosting used by Spirit to survive 3 harsh Martian winters.
And there is a silver lining to sitting mostly still that enables a chance to determine what’s at the core of the Red Planet, a key fact we don’t know.
“This winter science campaign will feature two way radio tracking with Earth to determine the Martian spin axis dynamics – thus the interior structure, a long-neglected aspect of Mars,” Arvidson told me.
I asked Squyres for a progress update and how long would the data collection require ?
Squyres replied that the experiment has already begun and added – “Hard to say how long. It’s months, as opposed to weeks or years, but it depends very much on data quality and the amount of data we get per week. We’re very early in the experiment now… we’ll just see how it goes.”