Opportunity Rover Discovers Martian Habitable Zone Favorable for Pre-biotic Chemistry

On the cusp of the 10th anniversary since launching to the Red Planet, NASA’s long lived Opportunity rover has discovered a habitable zone on Mars that once coursed with ‘drinkable water’ and possesses the chemical ingredients necessary to support a path to potential Martian microbes.

At a rock called “Esperance”, Opportunity found a cache of phyllosilicate clay minerals that typically form in neutral, drinkable water that is not extremely acidic or basic.

The finding ranks as “One of my personal Top 5 discoveries of the mission,” said Steve Squyres of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., principal investigator for NASA’s rover mission at a media briefing.

And despite her advancing age Opportunity remains healthy after surviving in excess of an incredible 3333 Sols, or days, trekking across the alien and ever harsh Martian crater plains.

Furthermore the intrepid robot just sat sail on a southerly course for a new destination called “Solander Point” where researches hope to find more even evidence of habitable environments since they already spotted deeper stakes of ancient rocks transformed by water eons ago. See our current photo mosaics showing Solander Point as Opportunity roves across the crater floor – above and below by Marco Di Lorenzo and Ken Kremer.

After weeks of trying, the rover deployed the robotic arm to drill at a sweet spot inside “Esperance” and collected convincing X-Ray spectroscopic data in the area she just investigated in May 2013 around the eroded rim of giant Endeavour Crater.

“Esperance is rich in clay minerals and shows powerful evidence of water alteration,” Squyres elaborated.

“This is the most powerful evidence we found for neutral pH water.”

“Clay minerals only tend to form at a more neutral pH. This is water you could drink,” Squyres gushed.

These finding represent the most favorable conditions for biology that Opportunity has yet seen in the rock histories it has encountered after nearly a decade roving the Red Planet.

“This is water that was much more favorable for things like pre-biotic chemistry – the kind of chemistry that could lead to the origin of life,” Squyres stated.

Opportunity snapped this color view of 'Solander Point' on June 1, 2013 (Sol 3325) looking south to her next destination which she should reach in august. The solar powered robot will spend the upcoming 6th winter season on northerly tilted slopes exploring the thick strata of ancient rocks. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ.
Opportunity snapped this color view of ‘Solander Point’ on June 1, 2013 (Sol 3325) looking south to her next destination which she should reach in August. The solar powered robot will spend the upcoming 6th winter season on northerly tilted slopes exploring the thick strata of ancient rocks. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ.

Esperance is unlike any rock previously investigated by Opportunity; rich in aluminum, which is strongly indicative of clay minerals, perhaps like montmorillonite.

Most rocks inspected to date by Opportunity were formed in an environment of highly acidic water that is extremely harsh to most life forms.

“If you look at all of the water-related discoveries that have been made by Opportunity, the vast majority of them point to water that was a very low pH – it was acid,” Squyres explained.

Esperance was found on ‘Cape York’, a hilly segment of the western rim of Endeavour crater which spans 14 miles (22 km) across. The robot arrived at the edge of Endeavour crater in mid-2011 and will spend her remaining life driving around the scientifically rich crater rim segments.

The pale rock in the upper center of this image, about the size of a human forearm, includes a target called "Esperance," which was inspected by NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity. Data from the rover's alpha particle X-ray spectrometer (APXS) indicate that Esperance's composition is higher in aluminum and silica, and lower in calcium and iron, than other rocks Opportunity has examined in more than nine years on Mars. Preliminary interpretation points to clay mineral content due to intensive alteration by water. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/Arizona State Univ
The pale rock in the upper center of this image, about the size of a human forearm, includes a target called “Esperance,” which was inspected by NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity. Data from the rover’s alpha particle X-ray spectrometer (APXS) indicate that Esperance’s composition is higher in aluminum and silica, and lower in calcium and iron, than other rocks Opportunity has examined in more than nine years on Mars. Preliminary interpretation points to clay mineral content due to intensive alteration by water. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/Arizona State Univ

NASA’s new Curiosity rover also recently discovered clay minerals and a habitable environment at Gale Crater – on the other side of Mars – stemming from a time when Mars was warmer and wetter billions of years ago.

Over time Mars became the cold and dry place it is today. Scientists hope the rovers provide clues to Mars dramatic transformation.

The solar powered rover is now driving as quick as possible to reach the northerly tilled slopes of ‘Solander Point’ in August, before the onset of the next Martian winter.

‘Solander Point’ offers a much taller stack of geological layering than ‘Cape York.’ Both areas are raised segments of the western rim of Endeavour Crater.

“There’s a lot to explore there. In effect, it’s a whole new mission,” said Ray Arvidson, the mission’s deputy principal scientific investigator from Washington University in St. Louis, Mo.

'Esperance' Target Examined by Opportunity in May 2013.  The  pale rock called "Esperance," has a high concentration of clay minerals formed in near neutral water indcating a spot favorable for life. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ.
‘Esperance’ Target Examined by Opportunity in May 2013. The pale rock called “Esperance,” has a high concentration of clay minerals formed in near neutral water indcating a spot favorable for life. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ.

Opportunity and her twin “Spirit” were launched to Mars on planned 90 day missions.

Both rovers have far exceeded everyone’s wildest expectations. Spirit endured more than 6 years inside Gusev Crater until succumbing to the bone chilling Martian winter in 2011.

Opportunity established a new American driving record for a vehicle on another world on May 15, 2013 (Sol 3309) and made history by driving ahead from this point at Cape York. This navcam mosaic shows the view forward to her next destinations of Solander Point and Cape Tribulation along the lengthy rim of huge Endeavour crater spanning 14 miles (22 km) in diameter.  Opportunity discovered clay minerals at Cape York and stands as the most favorable location for Martian biology discovered during her entire nearly 10 year long mission to Mars.  Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Kenneth Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo
NASA’s Opportunity Mars rover discovered clay minerals at Cape York ridge along the rim of Endeavour crater – seen in this photo mosaic – which stands as the most favorable location for Martian biology discovered during her entire nearly 10 year long mission to Mars. Opportunity also established a new American driving record for a vehicle on another world on May 15, 2013 (Sol 3309) and made history by driving ahead from this point at Cape York. This navcam photo mosaic shows the view forward to her next destinations of Solander Point and Cape Tribulation along the lengthy rim of huge Endeavour crater spanning 14 miles (22 km) in diameter.
Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)/Marco Di Lorenzo

Opportunity has lasted more than 37 times beyond the three month “warranty”.

“This is like your car not lasting 200,000 miles, or even a million miles. You’re talking about a car that lasts 2 million miles without an oil change,” Callas said. “At this point, how long Opportunity lasts is anyone’s guess.”

“Remember, the rover continues to operate in a very hostile environment, where we have extreme temperature changes every day, and the rover could have a catastrophic failure at anytime,” said John Callas, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., project manager for the Mars Exploration Rover Project.

“So every day is a gift.”

And don’t forget to “Send Your Name to Mars” aboard NASA’s MAVEN orbiter- details here. Deadline: July 1, 2013

Ken Kremer

…………….
Learn more about Mars, Curiosity, Opportunity, MAVEN, LADEE, CIBER, Conjunctions and NASA missions at Ken’s upcoming lecture presentations

June 11: “Send your Name to Mars on MAVEN” and “LADEE Lunar & Antares Rocket Launches from Virginia”; NJ State Museum Planetarium and Amateur Astronomers Association of Princeton (AAAP), Trenton, NJ, 730 PM.

June 12: “Send your Name to Mars on MAVEN” and “LADEE Lunar & Antares Rocket Launches from Virginia”; Franklin Institute and Rittenhouse Astronomical Society, Philadelphia, PA, 8 PM.

June 23: “Send your Name to Mars on MAVEN” and “CIBER Astro Sat, LADEE Lunar & Antares Rocket Launches from Virginia”; Rodeway Inn, Chincoteague, VA, 8 PM

Opportunity captures the eerie Martian scenery looking south across Botany Bay from the southern tip of Cape York to her next destination - Solander Point,  about 1 mile (1.6 km) away. This navcam photo mosaic was taken on Sol 3317, May  23, 2013.    Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell//Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Opportunity captures the eerie Martian scenery looking south across Botany Bay from the southern tip of Cape York to her next destination – Solander Point, about 1 mile (1.6 km) away. This navcam photo mosaic was taken on Sol 3317, May 23, 2013. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell//Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Traverse Map for NASA’s Opportunity rover from 2004 to 2013.  This map shows the entire path the rover has driven during more than 9 years and over 3330 Sols, or Martian days, since landing inside Eagle Crater on Jan 24, 2004 to current location heading south to Solander Point from  Cape York ridge at the western rim of Endeavour Crater.  Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/ASU/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer
Traverse Map for NASA’s Opportunity rover from 2004 to 2013.
This map shows the entire path the rover has driven during more than 9 years and over 3330 Sols, or Martian days, since landing inside Eagle Crater on Jan 24, 2004 to current location heading south to Solander Point from Cape York ridge at the western rim of Endeavour Crater.
Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/ASU/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer

Opportunity Discovers Most Powerful Evidence Yet for Martian Liquid Water

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NASA’s long lived Opportunity rover has discovered the most scientifically compelling evidence yet for the flow of liquid water on ancient Mars. The startling revelation comes in the form of a bright vein of the mineral gypsum located at the foothills of an enormous crater named Endeavour, where the intrepid robot is currently traversing. See our mosaic above, illustrating the exact spot.

Update: ‘Homestake’ Opportunity Mosaic above has just been published on Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) – 12 Dec 2011 (by Ken Kremer and Marco Di Lorenzo)

Researchers trumpeted the significant water finding this week (Dec. 7) at the annual winter meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in San Francisco.

“This gypsum vein is the single most powerful piece of evidence for liquid water at Mars that has been discovered by the Opportunity rover,” announced Steve Squyres of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., Principal Investigator for Opportunity, at an AGU press conference.

The light-toned vein is apparently composed of the mineral gypsum and was deposited as a result of precipitation from percolating pools of liquid water which flowed on the surface and subsurface of ancient Mars, billions of years ago. Liquid water is an essential prerequisite for life as we know it.

“This tells a slam-dunk story that water flowed through underground fractures in the rock,” said Squyres. “This stuff is a fairly pure chemical deposit that formed in place right where we see it. That can’t be said for other gypsum seen on Mars or for other water-related minerals Opportunity has found. It’s not uncommon on Earth, but on Mars, it’s the kind of thing that makes geologists jump out of their chairs.”

'Homestake' Vein in Color and Close-up
This color view of a mineral vein called "Homestake" was taken by the panoramic camera (Pancam) on NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity. The vein is about the width of a thumb and about 18 inches (45 centimeters) long. Opportunity examined it in November 2011 and found it to be rich in calcium and sulfur, possibly the calcium-sulfate mineral gypsum.

The light-toned vein is informally named “Homestake”, and was examined up close by Opportunity’s cameras and science instruments for several weeks this past month in November 2011, as the rover was driving northwards along the western edge of a ridge dubbed ‘Cape York’ – which is a low lying segment of the eroded rim of Endeavour Crater.

Veins are a geologic indication of the past flow of liquid water

Opportunity just arrived at the rim of the 14 mile (22 kilometere) wide Endeavour Crater in mid-August 2011 following an epic three year trek across treacherous dune fields from her prior investigative target at the ½ mile wide Victoria Crater.

“It’s like a whole new mission since we arrived at Cape York,” said Squyres.

‘Homestake’ is a very bright linear feature.

“The ‘Homestake’ vein is about 1 centimeter wide and 40 to 50 centimeters long,” Squyres elaborated. “It’s about the width of a human thumb.”

Opportunity's Approach to 'Homestake'
This view from the front hazard-avoidance camera on NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity shows the rover's arm's shadow falling near a bright mineral vein informally named Homestake. The vein is about the width of a thumb and about 18 inches (45 centimeters) long. Opportunity examined it in November 2011 and found it to be rich in calcium and sulfur, possibly the calcium-sulfate mineral gypsum. Opportunity took this image on Sol 2763 on Mars (Nov. 7, 2011). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Homestake protrudes slightly above the surrounding ground and bedrock and appears to be part of a system of mineral veins running inside an apron (or Bench) that in turn encircles the entire ridge dubbed Cape York.

In another first, no other veins like these have been seen by Opportunity throughout her entire 20 miles (33 kilometers) and nearly eight year long Martian journey across the cratered, pockmarked plains of Meridiani Planum, said Squyres.

The veins have also not been seen in the higher ground around the rim at Endeavour crater.

“We want to understand why these veins are in the apron but not out on the plains,” said the mission’s deputy principal investigator, Ray Arvidson, of Washington University in St. Louis. “The answer may be that rising groundwater coming from the ancient crust moved through material adjacent to Cape York and deposited gypsum, because this material would be relatively insoluble compared with either magnesium or iron sulfates.”

Opportunity was tasked to engage her Microscopic Imager and Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) mounted on the terminus of the rover’s arm as well as multiple filters of the mast mounted Panoramic Camera to examine ‘Homestake’.

“The APXS spectrometer shows ’Homestake’ is chock full of Calcium and Sulfur,” Squyres gushed.

Microscopic Close-up View of 'Homestake' Vein
This close-up view of a mineral vein called Homestake comes from the microscopic imager on Opportunity. The vein is about the width of a thumb and about 18 inches (45 centimeters) long. Opportunity examined it in November 2011 and found it to be rich in calcium and sulfur, possibly the calcium-sulfate mineral gypsum. Homestake is near the edge of the "Cape York" segment of the western rim of Endeavour Crater. This view blends three exposures taken by the microscopic imager during the 2,765th and 2,766th Martian days, or sols, of Opportunity's career on Mars (Nov. 3 and 4, 2011). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/USGS

The measurements of composition with the APXS show that the ratio points to it being relatively pure calcium sulfate, Squyres explained. “One type of calcium sulfate is gypsum.”

Calcium sulfate can have varying amounts of water bound into the minerals crystal structure.

The rover science team believes that this form of gypsum discovered by Opportunity is the dihydrate; CaSO4•2H2O. On Earth, gypsum is used for making drywall and plaster of Paris.

The gypsum was formed in the exact spot where Opportunity found it – unlike the sulfate minerals previously discovered which were moved around by the wind and other environmental and geologic forces.

“There was a fracture in the rock, water flowed through it, gypsum was precipitated from the water. End of story,” Squyres noted. “There’s no ambiguity about this, and this is what makes it so cool.”

At Homestake we are seeing the evidence of the ground waters that flowed through the ancient Noachian rocks and the precipitation of the gypsum, which is the least soluble of the sulfates, and the other magnesium and iron sulfates which Opportunity has been driving on for the last 8 years.

Opportunity Traverse Map 2004 to 2011
Traverse map showing the 8 Year Journey of Opportunity from Eagle Crater landing site Sol 1 (Jan. 24, 2004) to Sol 2775 (November 2011). Map shows rover location around Homestake water related mineral on Sol 2763 (November 2011) at Cape York ridge at Endeavour Crater rim. Endeavour Crater is 14 miles or 22 kilometers in diameter. Opportunity has driven more than 21 miles (34 km).
Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Marco Di Lorenzo/Kenneth Kremer

“Here, both the chemistry, mineralogy, and the morphology just scream water,” Squyres exclaimed. “This is more solid than anything else that we’ve seen in the whole mission.”

It’s inconceivable that the vein is something else beside gypsum, said Squyres.

As Opportunity drove from the plains of Meridiani onto the rim of Endeavour Crater and Cape York, it crossed a geologic boundary and arrived at a much different and older region of ancient Mars.

The evidence for flowing liquid water at Endeavour crater is even more powerful than the silica deposits found by Spirit around the Home Plate volcanic feature at Gusev Crater a few years ago.

“We will look for more of these veins in the [Martian] springtime,” said Squyres.

If a bigger, fatter vein can be found, then Opportunity will be directed to grind into it with her still well functioning Rock Abrasion Tool, or RAT.

Homestake was crunched with the wheels – driving back and forth over the vein – to break it up and expose the interior. Opportunity did a triple crunch over Homestake, said Arvidson.

Homestake was found near the northern tip of Cape York, while Opportunity was scouting out a “Winter Haven” location to spend the approaching Martian winter.

Arvidson emphasized that the team wants Opportunity to be positioned on a northerly tilted slope to catch the maximum amount of the sun’s rays to keep the rover powered up for continuing science activities throughout the fast approaching Martian winter.

“Martian winter in the southern hemisphere starts on March 29, 2012. But, Solar power levels already begin dropping dramatically months before Martian winter starts,” said Alfonso Herrera to Universe Today, Herrera is a Mars rover mission manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

“Opportunity is in excellent health,” said Bruce Banerdt, the Project Scientist for the Mars rover mission at JPL.

“This has been a very exciting time. We’ll head back south in the springtime and have a whole bunch of things to do with a very capable robot,” Squyres concluded.

'Botany Bay' and 'Cape York' with Vertical Exaggeration
This graphic combines a perspective view of the "Botany Bay" and "Cape York" areas of the rim of Endeavour Crater on Mars, and an inset with mapping-spectrometer data. Major features are labeled. In the perspective view, the landscape's vertical dimension is exaggerated five-fold compared with horizontal dimensions. NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity examined targets in the Cape York area during the second half of 2011. The perspective view was generated by producing an elevation map from a stereo pair of images from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, then draping one of the HiRISE images over the elevation model. The inset presents data from the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) instrument on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. In this CRISM observation, taken on March 29, 2011 Thermal inertia estimates from observations by the Thermal Emission Imaging System on NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter indicate that Botany Bay is a region with extensive outcrop exposures. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UA/JHUAPL

Meanwhile, NASA’s next leap in exploring potential Martian habitats for life – the car sized Curiosity Mars Science Lab rover – is speeding towards the Red Planet.

Read Ken’s continuing features about Opportunity starting here:

NASA Robot seeks Goldmine of Science and Sun at Martian Hill along vast Crater
Opportunity spotted Exploring vast Endeavour Crater from Mars Orbit
Twin Towers 9/11 Tribute by Opportunity Mars Rover
NASA Robot arrives at ‘New’ Landing Site holding Clues to Ancient Water Flow on Mars
Opportunity Arrives at Huge Martian Crater with Superb Science and Scenic Outlook
Opportunity Snaps Gorgeous Vistas nearing the Foothills of Giant Endeavour Crater

NASA Robot seeks Goldmine of Science and Sun at Martian Hill along vast Crater

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NASA’s intrepid robogirl Opportunity is now swiftly scouting out locations at a Martian hill along gigantic Endeavour crater that would simultaneously proffer a goldmine of sun and science as her power level drops significantly in these waning days of Martian autumn ahead of the absolutely brutal and potentially deadly 6 month long Antarctic winter that’s fast approaching. Opportunity has just discovered a geologic vein possibly formed as a result of flowing water eons ago.

But, search time for a sunny exposure at the Martian hill known as Cape York is running out says the Mars rover team in new interviews with Universe Today. Recall that lack of power and utterly frigid temperatures killed her twin sister Spirit last winter.

Martian winter in the southern hemisphere starts on March 29, 2012 or Sol 2908. But, Solar power levels already begin dropping dramatically months before Martian winter starts,” said Alfonso Herrera to Universe Today, Herrera is a Mars rover mission manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

“Orbital imagery indicates that the northern-most tip of Cape York might have north facing slopes which Opportunity will need in order to generate enough solar power to sustain her comfortably throughout the winter,” Herrera explained to me.

The team is very excited about the science implications of the vein detection.

“The importance of veins is that often they occur from the deposition of material that was dissolved and transported by hot water in cracks deep underground,” said Bruce Banerdt to Universe Today. Banerdt is the Project Scientist for the Mars rover mission at JPL.

Traverse map showing the 7 Year Journey of Opportunity from Eagle Crater landing site Sol 1 (Jan. 24, 2004) to current location around Homestake on Sol 2763 (November 2011) at Cape York ridge at Endeavour Crater rim. Endeavour Crater is 14 miles or 22 kilometers in diameter. Opportunity has driven more than 21 miles (34 km). Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Marco Di Lorenzo/Kenneth Kremer

Segments of Endeavour’s rim at Cape York and Cape Tribulation about 6 kilometers further south offers scientifically rich motherlodes of phyllosilicate clay minerals and other water bearing minerals that formed Billions of years ago on Mars and that could possibly point to habitats favorable for the genesis and support of Martian microbial life forms if they ever existed in the past or present.

Opportunity is currently traversing about the hilltops and slopes of Cape York where she recently made landfall after an epic three year trek across the plains of the Meridiani Planum region of Mars.

Initial reconnaissance around the southern tip and then climbing on top of the central ridge of Cape York have already yielded a bonanza of new science data at rock types never seen before on Mars, according to Steve Squyres, the Mars Rover Principal Investigator of Cornell University.

The rover is now driving north and back down around the base while searching for a “winter haven” with more potential for great science and a northerly inclined slope to more efficiently catch the sun’s rays.

“Opportunity is heading north to find the best winter site,” Ray Arvidson told Universe Today. Arvidson is the rover’s deputy principal investigator, of Washington University in St. Louis.

“We are more than halfway toward the northern part of Cape York where there are slopes steep enough to provide an energy-valid winter site and where science can take place. Now we are driving away from the predicted outcrops [of smectite clay minerals] on Cape York and onto the bench on the western side because we have run out of time to investigate these outcrops.”

Opportunity - Wide panoramic view inside vast Endeavour Crater snapped ascending Cape York crater ridge on Sol 2754, October 23, 2011. Opportunity wheel tracks at center. Cape Tribulation and distant, far side Endeavour crater rim in background. Opportunity is now driving to the northern tip of Cape York in search of a winter haven to survive upcoming brutal Martian Antarctic winter temperatures. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell

However, the rover team was still hoping to catch a break for science opportunities along the way north and just chanced upon geologic veins potentially indicative of past flow of liquid water.

“The bench around the edge of Cape York looks like sedimentary rock that’s been cut and filled with veins of material possibly delivered by water,” says Arvidson.

3 D Opportunity Panorama - 3 D Wide panoramic view inside vast Endeavour Crater snapped ascending Cape York crater ridge on Sol 2754, October 23, 2011. Opportunity wheel tracks at center. Cape Tribulation and distant, far side Endeavour crater rim in background. Opportunity is now driving to the northern tip of Cape York in search of a winter haven to survive upcoming brutal Martian Antarctic winter temperatures. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell

Opportunity has just driven to a light toned vein at a spot dubbed “Homestake” and will spend a few sols (martian days) investigating with all the tools on the terminus of the robotic arm – including some Microscopic Imager (MI) images of the vein and placing the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) on top for overnight integrations.

“Opportunity will then continue traveling on the outboard side of Cape York (i.e. facing the plains),” Herrera told Universe Today.

“Plans are subject to change, but currently, Opportunity will travel to the north end of Cape York and stay there for the winter if suitable north facing slopes are found.”

“Our hope is that once a winter haven is identified, Opportunity will have enough power to make brief forays for science gathering in the vicinity of the winter haven,” Herrera informed me.

Homestake vein close up on Sol 2765- November 3, 2011. RAT (Rock Abrasion Tool) at lower left will target Homestake. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell
Opportunity Panorama at Cape York Ridge at Endeavour Crater - November 2011
Opportunity rover is exploring around the base of Cape York hill at the bench and vein features which may hold clues to the ancient flow of liquid water here on Mars. Opportunity drives North (ahead) from here in search of a sunny winter haven. Mosaic Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Kenneth Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo

Opportunity’s power levels have dropped by nearly 25 percent in the past few months – as Martian dust builds up – and are hovering around 300 watts-hours , which is less than a third of the maximum output possible from her life giving solar arrays.

Her sparkling wing-like solar panels boasted an output of some 950 watt-hours upon landing on Mars nearly 8 years ago – for a mission warrentied to last a mere 90 Martian Days, or Sols. That equates to 31 times beyond the design lifetime !

Endeavour Crater Panorama from Opportunity, Sol 2681, August 2011
Opportunity arrived at the rim of Endeavour on Sol 2681, August 9, 2011 and climbed up the ridge known as Cape York. Odyssey crater is visible at left. Opportunity is now driving to the northern tip of Cape York (to the left) and is investigating a geologic vein that indicates flow of liquid water. Opportunity was photographed from Mars orbit on Sept. 10, 2011.
Mosaic Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Marco Di Lorenzo/Kenneth Kremer

Cape York is a low ridge that belongs to the rim of humongous Endeavour crater, some 14 miles or 22 kilometers in diameter that offers spectacular panoramic vistas peering into the vast and beautiful crater sporting a huge central mound and mountainous rim segments both near and far.

Opportunity arrived at Cape York and Endeavour Crater in August 2011 after an overland expedition of more than 21 miles (34 km).

NASA’s Curiosity rover is on course to liftoff for Mars on Nov. 25

Traverse map showing the 7 Year Journey of Opportunity from Eagle Crater landing site to current location at Cape York ridge at Endeavour Crater rim. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Marco Di Lorenzo/Kenneth Kremer

Read Ken’s continuing features about Opportunity starting here:
Opportunity spotted Exploring vast Endeavour Crater from Mars Orbit
Twin Towers 9/11 Tribute by Opportunity Mars Rover
NASA Robot arrives at ‘New’ Landing Site holding Clues to Ancient Water Flow on Mars
Opportunity Arrives at Huge Martian Crater with Superb Science and Scenic Outlook
Opportunity Snaps Gorgeous Vistas nearing the Foothills of Giant Endeavour Crater

Read Ken’s continuing features about Curiosity & Nov. 25 launch starting here:
Closing the Clamshell on a Martian Curiosity
Curiosity Buttoned Up for Martian Voyage in Search of Life’s Ingredients
Assembling Curiosity’s Rocket to Mars
Encapsulating Curiosity for Martian Flight Test
Dramatic New NASA Animation Depicts Next Mars Rover in Action

Opportunity spotted Exploring vast Endeavour Crater from Mars Orbit

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Opportunity has just been imaged in high resolution at Endeavour crater by a powerful NASA camera orbiting overhead in Mars orbit. The new image (see above) was snapped while NASA’s long lived robot was climbing a hilltop offering spectacular panoramic vistas peering into the vast crater which is some 14 miles (22 km) wide.

The HiRiSE camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter photographed Opportunity and her wheel tracks on September 10, 2011, or Martian Sol 2712 for a mission warrentied to last only 90 Sols ! The rover is sitting to the right of another small crater known as Odyssey. Click to enlarge the image.

Look very closely and you’ll even be able to easily discern the rovers pair of tire tracks showing the path traversed by the robot as she explores the crater and the ejecta rocks and boulders excavated and strewn about by an ancient impact.

Opportunity imaged at Endeavour crater rim with wheel tracks exploring Odyssey crater, rocks and boulders climbing up Cape York ridge. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Opportunity is ascending up the rim of Endeavour crater at the southern tip of a low ridge dubbed Cape York – a location that has already yielded a bonanza of new science data since her recent arrival in August 2011 after a more than 20 mile (33 km) epic trek.

The intrepid rover discovered a rock unlike any other since she safely landed at the Meridiani Planum region of Mars nearly eight years ago on Jan. 24, 2004.

Opportunity is now searching Endeavour crater and Cape York for signatures of phyllosilicates – clay minerals that formed in the presence of pH neutral water flowing on Mars surface billions of years ago.

Cape York ridge at Endeavour Crater - From Orbit
This image taken from Mars orbit shows the path driven by NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity in the weeks around the rover's arrival at the rim of Endeavour crater and up to Sol 2688. Opportunity has since driven a short distance to the right. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

Endeavour Crater Panorama from Opportunity, Sol 2681, August 2011
Opportunity arrived at the rim of Endeavour on Sol 2681, August 9, 2011 and climbed up the ridge known as Cape York. Odyssey crater is visible at left. Opportunity has since driven a short distance beyond Odyssey crater and was photographed from Mars orbit on Sept. 10, 2011.
Mosaic Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Marco Di Lorenzo/Kenneth Kremer

Read Ken’s continuing features about Curiosity and Opportunity starting here:
Opportunity spotted Exploring vast Endeavour Crater from Mars Orbit
Twin Towers 9/11 Tribute by Opportunity Mars Rover
NASA Robot arrives at ‘New’ Landing Site holding Clues to Ancient Water Flow on Mars
Opportunity Arrives at Huge Martian Crater with Superb Science and Scenic Outlook
Opportunity Snaps Gorgeous Vistas nearing the Foothills of Giant Endeavour Crater
Dramatic New NASA Animation Depicts Next Mars Rover in Action
Opportunity Rover Heads for Spirit Point to Honor Dead Martian Sister; Science Team Tributes