Opportunity Arrives at Huge Martian Crater with Superb Science and Scenic Outlook

[/caption]NASA’s Mars Opportunity rover has finally arrived at the huge Martian crater named Endeavour that simultaneously offers a mother lode of superb scenery and potentially the “Mother of all Martian Science”. The epic journey took nearly three years.

The intrepid robogirl is now climbing uphill on a Scientific quest that may well produce bountiful results towards the most important findings ever related to the search for life on Mars. Opportunity arrived at the western rim of the 13 mile (21 km) wide Endeavour crater on the 2681st Sol , or Martian day, of a mission only warrantied to last 90 Sols.

See our new Opportunity panoramic mosaics (Marco Di Lorenzo & Ken Kremer) illustrating the magnificent scenery and science targets now at hand on the surface of the Red Planet, thanks to the diligent work of the science and engineering teams who created the twin Mars Exploration Rover (MER) vehicles – Spirit & Opportunity.

Opportunity made landfall at Endeavour at a ridge of the discontinuous crater rim named Cape York and at a spot dubbed “Spirit Point” – in honor or her twin sister Spirit which stopped communicating with Earth about a year ago following more than six years of active science duty. See traverse map mosaic.

The martian robot quickly started driving northwards up the gnetle slopes of Cape York and has reached a small crater named “Odyssey” – the first science target, Dr. Matt Golembek told Universe Today. Golembek is a Senior Research Scientist with the Mars Exploration Program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif.

“Large ejecta blocks are clearly visible on the rim of Odyssey crater,” said Golembek. The crater is about 66 feet (20 m) in diameter.

Odyssey is a small impact crater of interest to the team because it features exposed material from Mars ancient Noachian era that was ejected when the crater was excavated long ago. Opportunity carefully drove over several days to one of those ejecta blocks – a flat topped rock nicknamed Tisdale 2.

Endeavour Crater Panorama from Opportunity, Sol 2685, August 2011
NASA’s Opportunity Mars rover arrived at the rim of huge Endeavour crater on Sol 2681, August 9, 2011 and is climbed up the ridge known as Cape York. She drove to the flat topped Tisdale 2 rock at upper left to analyze it with the science instruments on the robotic arm. Opportunity snapped this soaring panorama showing distant portions of Endeavour’s rim - as far as 13 miles away - in the background. This photo mosaic was stitched together from raw images taken by Opportunity on Sol 2685.
Mosaic Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Marco Di Lorenzo/Kenneth Kremer

“Opportunity is at a block of Odyssey crater ejecta called Tisdale 2 and the rock appears different from anything else we have seen,” Golembek explained.

Starting on Sol 2688 (Aug. 16) the rover began a science campaign time to investigate the rock with the instruments at the terminus of its robotic arm or IDD (Instrument Deployment Device) that will continue for some period of time.

“We are about to start an IDD campaign,” Golembek stated.

The Long Journey of Opportunity form Eagle to Endeavour Crater (2004 to 2011).
This map mosaic shows Opportunity’s epic trek of nearly eight years from landing at Eagle crater on January 24, 2004 to arrival at the giant 13 mile (21 km) diameter Endeavour crater in August 2011. Opportunity arrived the Endeavour’s rim and then drove up a ridge named Cape York. The photomosaic at top right show the outlook from Cape York on Sol 2685 (August 2011).
Mosaic Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Kenneth Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo

The team reports that the soil at Cape York is also of a different texture than any that Opportunity has seen so far on her incredible 20 mile (33 km) trek across the Meridiani Planum region of Mars. So far they haven’t seen of the iron-rich concretions, nicknamed “blueberries,” which have been plentiful on the surface along the way at numerous locations Opportunity has stopped at and investigated over the past 90 months. Initially the prime mission was projected to last 3 months – the remainder has been a huge bonus.

The science team is directing Opportunity to hunt for clay minerals, also known as phyllosilicates, that could unlock the secrets of an ancient Epoch on Mars stretching back billions and billions of years ago that was far wetter and very likely more habitable and welcoming to life’s genesis.

Phyllosilicate minerals form in neutral water that would be vastly more friendly to any potential Martian life forms – if they ever existed in the past or present. Signatures for phyllosilicates were detected by the CRISM instrument aboard NASA’s powerful Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) spacecraft circling Mars

Flat-topped Tisdale 2 rock. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
'Ridout' Rock on Rim of Odyssey Crater. Opportunity looked across small Odyssey crater on the rim of much larger Endeavour crater to capture this raw image from its panoramic camera during the rover's 2,685th Martian day, or sol, of work on Mars (Aug. 13, 2011). From a position south of Odyssey, this view is dominated by a rock informally named "Ridout" on the northeastern rim of Odyssey. The rock is roughly the same size as the rover, which is 4.9 feet (1.5 meters) long. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/ASU

Read my continuing features about Mars starting here
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
Opportunity Rover Completes Exploration of fascinating Santa Maria Crater
Opportunity Surpasses 30 KM Driving and Snaps Skylab Crater in 3 D

Opportunity Snaps Gorgeous Vistas nearing the Foothills of Giant Endeavour Crater

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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