You’d have to be an intrepid explorer to investigate something named ‘Cape Tribulation’. Opportunity, NASA’s long-lived rover on Mars’ surface, has been just that. But Opportunity is now leaving Cape Tribulation behind, after being in that area since late 2014, or for about 30 months.
Cape Tribulation is the name given to a segment of crater rim at Endeavour Crater, where Opportunity has been for over 5 1/2 years. During that time, Opportunity reached some important milestones. While there, it surpassed 26 miles in distance travelled, the length of a marathon race. It also reached its highest elevation yet, and in ‘Marathon Valley’, it investigated clay outcrops seen from orbit. Opportunity also had some struggles there, when its flash memory stopped working, meaning all data had to be transmitted every day, or lost.
Before reaching Cape Tribulation 30 months ago, Opportunity investigated other parts of Endeavour Crater called “Cape York,” “Solander Point” and “Murray Ridge.”
The rover’s next destination is Perseverance Valley, where it will investigate how it was carved out billions of years ago: by water, by wind, or perhaps flowing material lubricated by water. Before leaving Cape Tribulation, Opportunity captured the panoramic image of Rochefort Ridge, a section of the Endeavour Crater rim marked by grooves on its side.”The degree of erosion at Rocheport is fascinating,” said Opportunity Deputy Principal Investigator Ray Arvidson, of Washington University in St. Louis. “Grooves run perpendicular to the crest line. They may have been carved by water or ice or wind. We want to see as many features like this on the way to Perseverance Valley as we can, for comparison with what we find there.”
Endeavour crater is about 22km in diameter, and Perseverance Valley is about 2 football fields long. The goal at Endeavour is to investigate its segmented rim, where the oldest rocks ever investigated on Mars are exposed. Since the beginning of April, Opportunity has travelled about 98 meters, to a point where Cape Tribulation meets the plain around the crater.
“From the Cape Tribulation departure point, we’ll make a beeline to the head of Perseverance Valley…” – Opportunity Deputy Principal Investigator Ray Arvidson
“From the Cape Tribulation departure point, we’ll make a beeline to the head of Perseverance Valley, then turn left and drive down the full length of the valley, if we can,” Arvidson said. “It’s what you would do if you were an astronaut arriving at a feature like this: Start at the top, looking at the source material, then proceed down the valley, looking at deposits along the way and at the bottom.”
It’s the nature of those deposits that can give vital clues to how Perseverance Valley was formed. Arvidson said, “If it was a debris flow, initiated by a little water, with lots of rocks moving downhill, it should be a jumbled mess. If it was a river cutting a channel, we may see gravel bars, crossbedding, and what’s called a ‘fining upward’ pattern of sediments, with coarsest rocks at the bottom.”
Opportunity, and its sister rover Spirit, arrived at Mars in 2004, with a planned mission length of 90 days. Opportunity has surpassed that by over 12 years, and continues to perform extremely well in the Martian environment.
NASA’s truly outstanding Opportunity rover continues “making new discoveries about ancient Mars” as she commemorates 13 Years since bouncing to a touchdown on Mars, in a feat that is “truly amazing” – the deputy chief scientist Ray Arvidson told Universe Today exclusively.
“Reaching the 13th year anniversary with a functioning rover making new discoveries about ancient Mars on a continuing basis is truly amazing,” Ray Arvidson, Opportunity Deputy Principal Investigator of Washington University in St. Louis, told Universe Today.
Put another way Opportunity is 13 YEARS into her 3 MONTH mission! And still going strong!
During the past year the world famous rover discovered “more extensive aqueous alteration within fractures and more mild alteration within the bedrock outcrops” at Endeavour crater, Arvidson elaborated.
And now she is headed to her next target – an ancient water carved gully!
The gully is situated about 0. 6 mile (1.6 km) south of the robots current location.
But to get there she first has to heroically ascend steep rocky slopes inclined over 20 degrees along the eroded craters western rim – and it’s no easy task! Slipping and sliding along the way and all alone on difficult alien terrain.
Furthermore she is 51 times beyond her “warrantied” life expectancy of merely 90 Sols promised at the time of landing so long ago – roving the surface of the 4th rock from the Sun during her latest extended mission; EM #10.
How was this incredible accomplishment achieved?
“Simply a well-made and thoroughly tested American vehicle,” Arvidson responded.
The six wheeled rover landed on Mars on January 24, 2004 PST on the alien Martian plains at Meridiani Planum -as the second half of a stupendous sister act.
Her twin sister Spirit, had successfully touched down 3 weeks earlier on January 3, 2004 inside 100-mile-wide Gusev crater and survived more than six years.
Opportunity concluded 2016 and starts 2017 marching relentlessly towards an ancient water carved gully along the eroded rim of vast Endeavour crater – the next science target on her heroic journey traversing across never before seen Red Planet terrains.
Huge Endeavour crater spans some 22 kilometers (14 miles) in diameter.
Throughout 2016 Opportunity was investigating the ancient, weathered slopes around the Marathon Valley location in Endeavour crater. The area became a top priority science destination after the slopes were found to hold a motherlode of ‘smectite’ clay minerals based on data from the CRISM spectrometer circling overhead aboard a NASA Mars orbiter.
The smectites were discovered via extensive, specially targeted Mars orbital measurements gathered by the CRISM (Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars) spectrometer on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) – accomplished earlier at the direction of Arvidson.
Opportunity was descending down Marathon Valley the past year to investigate the clay minerals formed in water. They are key to helping determine the habitability of the Red Planet when it was warmer and wetter billions of years ago.
What did Opportunity accomplish scientifically at Marathon Valley during 2016?
“Key here is the more extensive aqueous alteration within fractures and more mild alteration within the bedrock outcrops,” Arvidson explained to me.
“Fractures have red pebbles enhanced in Al and Si (likely by leaching out more soluble elements), hematite, and in the case of our scuffed fracture, enhanced sulfate content with likely Mg sulfates and other phases. Also the bedrock is enriched in Mg and S relative to other Shoemaker rocks and these rocks are the smectite carrier as observed from CRISM ATO data.”
Marathon Valley measures about 300 yards or meters long. It cuts downhill through the west rim of Endeavour crater from west to east – the same direction in which Opportunity drove downhill from a mountain summit area atop the crater rim.
Opportunity has been exploring Endeavour since arriving at the humongous crater in 2011. Endeavour crater was formed when it was carved out of the Red Planet by a huge meteor impact billions of years ago.
“Endeavour crater dates from the earliest Martian geologic history, a time when water was abundant and erosion was relatively rapid and somewhat Earth-like,” explains Larry Crumpler, a science team member from the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science.
Opportunity has been climbing up very steep and challenging slopes to reach the top of the crater rim. Then she will drive south to Cape Byron and the gully system.
“We have had some mobility issues climbing steep, rocky slopes. Lots of slipping and skidding, but evaluating the performance of the rover on steep, rocky and soil-covered slopes was one of the approved extended mission objectives,” Arvidson explained.
“We are heading out of Cape Tribulation, driving uphill to the southwest to reach the Meridiani plains and then to drive to the western side of Cape Byron to the head of a gully system.”
What’s ahead for 2017? What’s the importance of exploring the gully?
“Finish up work on Cape Tribulation, traverse to the head of the gully system and head downhill into one or more of the gullies to characterize the morphology and search for evidence of deposits,” Arvidson elaborated.
“Hopefully test among dry mass movements, debris flow, and fluvial processes for gully formation. The importance is that this will be the first time we will acquire ground truth on a gully system that just might be formed by fluvial processes. Will search for cross bedding, gravel beds, fining or coarsening upward sequences, etc., to test among hypotheses.”
How long will it take to reach the gully?
“Months to the gully,” replied Arvidson. After arriving at the top of the crater rim, the rover will actually drive part of the way on the Martian plains again during the southward trek to the gully.
“And we will be driving on the plains to drive relatively long distances with an intent of getting to the gully well before the winter season.”
As of today, Jan 31, 2017, long lived Opportunity has survived 4630 Sols (or Martian days) roving the harsh environment of the Red Planet.
Opportunity has taken over 216,700 images and traversed over 27.26 miles (43.87 kilometers) – more than a marathon.
See our updated route map below. It shows the context of the rovers over 13 year long traverse spanning more than the 26 mile distance of a Marathon runners race.
The rover surpassed the 27 mile mark milestone on November 6, 2016 (Sol 4546).
The power output from solar array energy production is currently 416 watt-hours, before heading into another southern hemisphere Martian winter in 2017. It will count as Opportunities 8th winter on Mars.
Meanwhile Opportunity’s younger sister rover Curiosity traverses and drills into the lower sedimentary layers at the base of Mount Sharp.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.
Martian Reminder of a Pioneering Flight. Names related to the first solo nonstop flight across the Atlantic have been informally assigned to a crater NASA’s Opportunity Mars rover is studying. This false-color view of the “Spirit of St. Louis Crater” and the “Lindbergh Mound” inside it comes from Opportunity’s panoramic camera. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ. See additional Opportunity photo mosaics below [/caption]
The science team leading NASA’s long-lived Opportunity rover mission is honoring the pioneering solo nonstop trans-Atlantic flight of aviator Charles Lindbergh by assigning key features of the Mars mountain top crater area the rover is now exploring with names related to the historic flight.
Opportunity is now studying an elongated crater called “Spirit of St. Louis” and an unparalleled rock spire within the crater called “Lindbergh Mound” which are named in honor of Lindbergh himself and his plane – the Spirit of Saint Louis.
“Spirit of Saint Louis” crater is quite special in many ways related not just to history but also to science and exploration – that very reasons behind Lindbergh’s flight and Opportunity’s astounding mission to the Red Planet.
The team is ecstatic that the 11 year old rover Opportunity has reached “Spirit of St. Louis Crater” because its serves as the gateway to the alien terrain of “Marathon Valley” holding caches of water altered minerals that formed under environmental conditions conducive to support Martian microbial life forms, if they ever existed.
The crater, rock spire and several features in and near it are shown in several recent panoramic mosaics, above and below, created by the rover team and separately by the image processing team of Ken Kremer and Marco Di Lorenzo.
Marathon Valley and Spirit of St. Louis Crater are located just a few hundred meters south of a Mars mountain summit at a majestic spot called Cape Tribulation. It lies along a marvelous ridgeline along the western rim of Endeavour crater, which spans some 22 kilometers (14 miles) in diameter.
“What’s the connection between St. Louis and the Spirit of St. Louis? Lindbergh flew from New York to Paris, but he named his aircraft for the St. Louis citizens who purchased it for him,” says Prof. Ray Arvidson, the rover Deputy Principal Investigator of Washington University in St. Louis.
The raw images for the mosaics were taken in March and April 2015 using the robots mast mounted pancam and navcam cameras. The mosaics are shown in false color and colorized versions, annotated and unannotated.
Charles Lindbergh embarked in May 1927 on his history making flight from New York to Paris in the airplane he named Spirit of St. Louis, the first solo nonstop flight across the Atlantic.
The shallow Spirit of St. Louis Crater is about 110 feet (34 meters) long and about 80 feet (24 meters) wide, with a floor slightly darker than surrounding terrain, says NASA.
Lindbergh Mound dominates the crater measuring about 7 to 10 feet (2 to 3 meters) tall, rising higher than the crater’s rim.
The annotations also include features named to recognize the financial backing for the flight from St. Louis residents including Harold M. Bixby and Harry M. Knight. The plane’s designer was Donald A. Hall.
Among other features named are Roosevelt Field, the spot on New York’s Long Island from which Lindbergh took off, and Marathon Monument, where the rover completed a her first marathon distance runners drive on Mars. The team picked a distinctive outcrop, Marathon Monument, to mark the finish line, said NASA officials.
“The science team for the rover picks crater names from a list of “vessels of exploration,” including ships of sail and spacecraft as well as aircraft. As long as the rover remains in the crater, names for interesting features will drawn from a list of names related to this famous flight,” according to a NASA statement.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.