When last we saw our plucky rover, it was tentatively crawling down into the massive Victoria crater on the surface of Mars. Well, NASA’s Mars Opportunity rover has been making some serious progress since then. In fact, it’s already gotten down to do some science. The rover is currently several metres down inside the rim of Victoria crater, balancing on a steep slope, and peering at an ancient slab of exposed bedrock.
Opportunity is now slowly descending down into the 800-metre-wide Victoria Crater; slowly, and carefully. Its first stop is a patch of exposed bedrock. Even though it’s still on the slope, Opportunity was able to reach over with its robotic arm and use some of its tools to examine the bright outcropping.
Controllers had Opportunity make a few extra safety checks, since it’s currently driving down a 25-degree slope, and stretching out the arm too far could unbalance it. The rover drove down 2.25 metres (7.38 feet) to get the rock within easy – and safe – reach. This was the third drive the rover has made since it entered the crater on September 13th.
NASA is watching the rover’s traction very carefully. This 25-degree angle is the steepest the rover is going to see. And so far, the worst slippage has only been about 10%. So it should be able to get down into the crater, and still be able to crawl back out again. Fortunately, Victoria crater won’t be Opportunity’s final home on Mars.
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Researchers are hoping the rover will find older and older patches of rock, exposed when an asteroid impacted the surface of Mars millions of years ago. These ancient rocks will tell a story of Martian history much older than the fragmented pieces scientists have been able to put together so far. Were there long periods where the planet was covered by liquid water?
It’s your job Opportunity. Don’t come out of your hole until you’ve got some answers.
Original Source: NASA/JPL News Release