Mars Rover Opportunity Crosses Botany Bay


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NASA today provided an update not on Mars rover Curiosity, but its elder rover Opportunity. The rover is part of the Mars Exploration Rover Project, which sent two rovers, Opportunity and Spirit, to Mars in 2004. Opportunity is the only one of the rovers still functioning, after Spirit became stuck in 2009, and stopped responding to communications in 2010.

Opportunity is now six weeks into and around halfway through a 1.2 mile (22 km) drive from one crater rim to another. The rover had been examining the area around "Cape York" for nearly two years, searching for evidence of a watery past on Mars. It is now in the process of crossing an area called "Botany Bay" to reach its destination, an area named "Solander Point."

"The surface that Opportunity is driving across in Botany Bay is polygonally fractured outcrop that is remarkably good for driving," said Brad Joliff, an Opportunity science team member Washington University. "The plates of outcrop, like a tiled mosaic pavement, have a thin covering of soil, not enough to form the wind-blown ripples we've had to deal with during some other long treks. The outcrop plates are light-toned, and the cracks between them are filled with dark, basaltic soil and our old friends the 'blueberries.'"

Opportunity recently investigated the "Matijevic Hill" portion of Cape York, examining small, bb-sized spheres that are rich in iron. Researchers have nicknamed the objects "blueberries."

Both Cape York and Solander Point are sections on the western rim of the Endeavor Crater. Opportunity will be examining Solander Point throughout the upcoming Martian winter.

(Image courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech)