Saturday, May 23, 2015

Mars Rover Sees Rock Spire as It Reaches 4000th Martian Day Record

At the end of April, the Opportunity Rover on Mars reached its 4000th martian day of operations! (A day on Mars is 24 hours and 40 minutes long.) Opportunity has been exploring the planets since early in 2004, and has survived far longer than most scientists and engineers expected.

Our photo shows a beautiful image mosaic it took of the red deserts of Mars, focusing on an elongated crater (seen a bit darker than the surrounding countryside) called "Spirit of St. Louis."

If you click on the picture, you can see it bigger. The crater is about 110 feet long and the interesting rock spire on its far end is about 7 to 10 feet high.

The Spirit of St. Louis crater is on the outer part of the western rim of a much larger crater that Opportunity has been exploring, called Endeavour. You have a view into that bigger crater if you look on either side of the rock spire.

(If the names in this story are not your favorites, you are not alone. Not everyone loves the NASA designations; I think not even Donald Trump would name his child Opportunity, but what are you going to do.)

Mars is every bit as dry and dusty as you might imagine from this picture. The energy for the stalwart little rover comes from its solar panels, and over the years they have become covered with dust. Each time, we thought this spelled the end of the mission, but then the martian winds whipped up a dust devil, which cleaned the solar panels and gave the rover fresh life. Planetary exploration is full of surprises.


For a different view, from a different robotic explorer, check out the small but fascinating mineral veins, seen by the Curiosity Rover in March, at:
The mineral rows we see are only about 2.5 inches high, but wonderfully complex.  By the way, this picture has been edited to change the martian light slightly to be more like Earth light, so geologists could compare the mineral deposits to more familiar ones on Earth. The picture you see is a combination of 28 telephoto lens images.  Aren't they wonderfully sharp?

Speaking of Sharp, Curiosity is now making its way toward and up Mt. Sharp, the layered mountain inside a crater which we think was under water billions of years ago. We expect lots of great images as Curiosity makes its slow and careful trek up the mountain.