Opportunity Surpasses 30 KM Driving and Snaps Skylab Crater in 3 D

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With her most recent drive of 482 feet (146.8 meters) on June 1, 2011 (Sol 2614), NASA’s Opportunity Mars Rover has zoomed past the unimaginable 30 kilometer (18,64 miles) mark in total odometry since safely landing on Mars nearly seven and one half years ago on Jan 24, 2004. That’s 50 times beyond the roughly quarter mile of roving distance initially forseen.

Opportunity is now 88 months into the original 3 month mission “warranty” planned by NASA and the rover team. That’s over 29 times beyond the original design lifetime and an achievement that no one on the rover teams ever expected to observe.

And Opportunity is still going strong, in good health and has abundant solar power as she continues driving on her ambitious overland trek across the martian plains of Meridiani Planum. She is heading to the giant Endeavour crater, some 22 km (14 miles) in diameter.

Opportunity snaps Skylab Crater in 3 D during approach to Endeavour Crater
This stereo view of Skylab Crater was captured by Opportunity on Mars on Sol 2594, or May 12, 2011, along the rovers route to giant Endeavour Crater. This young crater is about 30 feet (9 meters) in diameter.and was likely formed within the past 100,000 years. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

At this point Endeavour is barely 2 miles (3.5 km) away since Opportunity departed from Santa Maria Crater in March 2011. Landfall at Endeavour is expected sometime later this year.

Endeavour is a long awaited and long sought science target because it is loaded with phyllosilicate clay minerals. These clays have never before been studied and analyzed first hand on the red planets surface.

Opportunity snaps Skylab Crater in 2 D during approach to Endeavour Crater
This view of Skylab Crater was captured by Opportunity’s navigation camera on Mars on Sol 2594, or May 12, 2011, along the rovers route to giant Endeavour Crater. This young crater is about 30 feet (9 meters) in diameter. The blocks of material ejected from the crater-digging impact sit on top of the sand ripples near the crater. This suggests, from the estimated age of the area's sand ripples, that the crater was formed within the past 100,000 years. The dark sand inside the crater attests to the mobility of fine sand in the recent era in this Meridiani Planum region of Mars. The rover view spans 216 degrees from northwest on the right to south on the right. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Phyllosilicate clays formed in neutral watery environments, which are much more conducive to the formation of life compared to the highly acidic environments studied up to now by Spirit and Opportunity. NASA’s Curiosity rover is due to land on Mars in 2012 at a site the science team believes is rich in Phyllosilicates.

In recent weeks, Opportunity has passed by a series and small young craters as she speeds to Endeavour as fast as possible. One such crater is named “Skylab”, in honor of America’s first manned Space Station, launched in 1973.

Now whip out your 3 D glasses and check out NASA’s newly released stereo images of “Skylab” and another named “Freedom 7” in honor of Alan Shepard’s flight as the first American in space. Be sure to also view Opportunity’s dance steps in 3 D performed to aid backwards driving maneuvers on the Red planet

Freedom 7 Crater on Mars 50 Years after Freedom 7 Flight
Opportunity recorded this stereo view of a crater informally named Freedom 7 shortly before the 50th anniversary of the first American in space: astronaut Alan Shepard's flight in the Freedom 7 spacecraft on May 5, 1961. Opportunity took this image on Sol 2585 on Mars on May 2, 2011. The crater is about 25 meters (82 feet) in diameter. It is the largest of a cluster of about eight craters all formed just after an impactor broke apart in the Martian atmosphere perhaps 200,000 years ago. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“Skylab” is about 9 meters (30 feet) in diameter. The positions of the scattered rocks relative to sand ripples suggest that Skylab is young for a Martian crater. Researchers estimate it was excavated by an impact within the past 100,000 years.

“Freedom 7” crater is about 25 meters (82 feet) in diameter. During her long overland expedition, Opportunity is examining many craters of diverse ages at distant locales to learn more about the past history of Mars and how impact craters have changed over time.

Opportunity was just positioned at a newly found rock outcrop named “Valdivia” and analyzing it with the robotic arm instruments including the Microscopic Imager and the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS).

Opportunity leaves dance step on Mars
A dance-step pattern is visible in the wheel tracks near the left edge of this scene recorded in stereo by the navigation camera during Sol 2554 on Mars (April 1, 2011). The pattern comes from use of a new technique for Opportunity to autonomously check for hazards in its way while driving backwards. For scale, the distance between the parallel tracks of the left and right wheels is about 1 meter (about 40 inches). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Skylab, America’s First manned Space Station
Photo taken by departing Skylab 4 crew in Feb. 1974. Credit: NASA

One Strange Mars Rock

Opportunity has come upon another big rock on Mars. But what is it? Another meteorite? A big clump of ejecta from an old impact? There’s lots of other debris scattered around this area as well. The rock has been named “Marquette Island,” staying with the island theme for the other meteorites Oppy has come across, and the rover may take the “opportunity” to get closer to this rock and check it out, given the sand dunes surrounding it don’t provide too much of an obstacle. So maybe next week we’ll find out what it is. But in the meantime, enjoy these color and 3-D images (see more below) of the rock via Stu Atkinson from Unmannedspaceflight.com. Check out more great looks at Marquette Island at Stu’s blog about Oppy’s travels, Road to Endeavour.

Oh, and rumor has it that the extrication process may have begun to free the Spirit rover. Latest images show she has moved every so slightly. More as it becomes available….

Marquette Island, from a distance. Credit: NASA/JPL, color by Stu Atkinson
Marquette Island, from a distance. Credit: NASA/JPL, color by Stu Atkinson
Marquette Island in 3-D. Credit: NASA/JPL, 3-D by Stu Atkinson
Marquette Island in 3-D. Credit: NASA/JPL, 3-D by Stu Atkinson

Opportunity Discovers Still Another Meteorite! Find It on Google Mars

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Mackinac on Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL/ colorization by Stuart Atkinson

Opportunity must be driving down Meteorite Alley on Mars. The rover has come across still another meteorite, the third space rock it has found the past few months, and fourth overall since 2005. This one is called Mackinac, which continues the “island” theme by which the science team has dubbed the meteorites. Block Island was found in July 2009, and Opportunity came upon Shelter Island the end of September (around sol 2020 for the rover). Mackinac was found on sol 2034 (Oct 13), and it looks very similar in composition to the two earlier meteorites. Opportunity analyzed the Block Island and found it was made of iron and nickel.

The image above was color calibrated by Stu Atkinson, who hangs out at UnmannedSpaceflight.com. You can find all the raw images Opportunity has sent back to Earth here, and raw images from Spirit here. But you can also follow Opportunity in other ways….

You can keep track of Opportunity’s travels through Meridiani Planum on its way to Endeavour Crater at one of Stu’s blogs, Road to Endeavour. But — and this is very fun — you can also follow Oppy on Google Mars, and see where it has found the meteorites. Tesheiner on UMSF regularly updates a route map, pinpointing the spots where the rover stops. Just go to Google Mars (download Google Earth and Mars here if you don’t have it yet), open up Google Mars, then click on this link, download and open, and you’ll be transported to Opportunity’s location on Mars. Extreme, extreme cool.

Now, you’ll notice that region of Google Mars doesn’t have high-resolution imagery yet. They’re working on it. In the meantime, though, if you want to see a great mosaic of the terrain that Opportunity is traveling through, check out this image below created by Ken Kremer, also of UMSF. This is from Sol 2010 showing Nereus Crater and dunes on the Road to Endeavour, where Oppy was just prior to discovering Shelter Island. The crater is about 10 meters across. Ken created this mosaic from raw images from the Cornell Pancam raw images, stitching multiple images together and calibrating the color. Beautiful! Click the image for a larger version over at Spaceflightnow.com. This image is also the Oct. 19 Astronomy Picture of the Day.

Thanks to Stu, Tesheiner and Ken for sharing their incredible Martian handiwork!

Opportunity mosaic from Sol 2010 showing Nereus Crater and dunes on the Road to Endeavour Crater.  Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Spaceflight Now/Ken Kremer.  Used by permission.  Click image for larger version.
Opportunity mosaic from Sol 2010 showing Nereus Crater and dunes on the Road to Endeavour Crater. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Spaceflight Now/Ken Kremer. Used by permission. Click image for larger version.

Opportunity mosaic from Sol 2010 showing Nereus Crater and dunes on the Road to Endeavour Crater. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Spaceflight Now/Ken Kremer. Used by permission. Click image for larger version