NASA announced today that Mars rover Opportunity has completed a reconnaissance circuit around an area named "Matijevic Hill." Opportunity began its study of the location at the beginning of October. The site is named after Jacob Matijevic, who led the engineering team for Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity and died back in September.
"If you are a geologist studying a site like this, one of the first things you do is walk the outcrop, and that's what we've done with Opportunity," said Steve Squyres, the mission's principal investigator at Cornell University.
Opportunity drove around 354 meters (1,160 feet) in a counter clockwise circuit around Matijevic Hill, identifying objects of interest for future study. The Hill is located on the western rim of Endeavor Crater, the result of an impact from an object more than 3 billion years ago. Researchers are determining the ages of local outcrops to understand the area's past environment.
"We've got a list of questions posed by the observations so far," said Squyres. "We did this walkabout to determine the most efficient use of time to answer the questions. Now we have a good idea what we're dealing with, and we're ready to start the detailed work."
Of particular interest on Matijevic Hill are "Whitewater Lake" and "Kirkwood." Whitewater lake is an area of light-toned material scientists believe might contain clay. Kirkwood contains small spheres that are similar to, but markedly different than, iron-rich spheres researchers have nicknamed "blueberries."
Opportunity has now driven 35.4 kilometers (22 miles) during its nearly nine years on the Martian surface. It's twin rover, Spirit, became stuck in soft soil in 2009 and communications were cut off in 2010.
"Almost nine years into a mission planned to last for three months, Opportunity is fit and ready for driving, robotic-arm operations and communication with Earth," said Diana Blaney, the mission's deputy project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.