by: Nicole Willett
June 21, 2013 was a big day for Opportunity as she passed five Martian years roving Mars. On January 25, 2014 the Opportunity rover will have completed 10 full Earth years on Mars. This is an amazing achievement, considering the Opportunity Rover was only a 90 day mission. Since the 9th anniversary, Opportunity has left Cape York and discovered an area where neutral pH water once was. This is further evidence of habitability on the Red Planet. Opportunity then drove to Solander Point in order to drive on a terrain that has a slope pointing toward the sun for the best winter time sunlight collection. For now Opportunity is on the edge of Endeavor Crater spying interesting minerals as we anxiously await her next amazing discovery.
In honor of Opportunity and her twin, Spirit, a new museum exhibit has opened at the Smithsonian Institution. Huge wall size panoramas of Mars give visitors a sense that they are on the surface of the planet. The exhibit also has a full scale model of the rover as its centerpiece. The name of the exhibit is “Spirit and Opportunity: 10 Years Roving Across Mars” The museum officials stated that the purpose of the exhibit is to combine art and science in a multimedia experience that visitors will be immersed in. (http://www.space.com/24231-mars-rovers-spirit-opportunity-museum-exhibit.html#sthash.hko79mb5.dpuf)
(Original blog published January 2013)
With all of the hype surrounding the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Curiosity, it is easy for the public to forget the Mars Exploration Rovers (MER) Spirit and Opportunity. The twin rovers were each launched by a Delta II Heavy Lifter rocket in the summer of 2003. The Opportunity Rover landed using the airbag method in Meridiani Planum on January 25, 2004 three weeks after the Spirit Rover landed. This month (January 2013) Opportunity is set to celebrate 9 full Earth years on Mars. This very industrious rover was planned for only a 90 day surface mission and has now gone 36 times past its planned mission. The two rovers have made many wonderful discoveries and they paved the way for Curiosity. Each rover had a distinct personality and each have encountered their own challenges. Sadly for the MER team, although Spirit also far exceeded its mission, the last contact with Spirit was in 2010.
Once Opportunity bounced to a stop, she ended up in Eagle Crater. The landing site was named Challenger Memorial Stadium in honor of the astronauts who perished in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986. Eagle Crater is a small crater with a layered outcropping of geological features. This was a serendipitous place for a landing, some stating it as an astronomical “hole-in-one”.
In keeping with NASA’s “follow the water” goal on Mars, the JPL website states the following:
“Understanding the history of water on Mars is important to meeting the four science goals of NASA’s long-term Mars Exploration Program:”
- Determine whether Life ever arose on Mars
- Characterize the Climate of Mars
- Characterize the Geology of Mars
- Prepare for Human Exploration”
To accomplish these goals, Opportunity carries a plethora of scientific instruments and cameras. The rover carries a panoramic camera, a hazard camera, and a microscopic imager. It also hosts a suite of spectrometers (an instrument that utilizes the electromagnetic spectrum to analyze data), and a rock abrasion tool (RAT). Many of these instruments are at the end of a robotic arm that extends to sample and analyze the rocks, soils, and minerals.
Opportunity has also made astronomical observations. These include the transits of both natural satellites, Phobos and Deimos, across the face of the Sun. The rover’s cameras have also photographed the Earth, which appears as an indistinct bright object in the Martian sky. This reminds us of how small we really are.
2012, Opportunity Rover has been studying an area at the rim of Endeavour Crater called Matijevic Hill. The mission scientists dubbed this portion of the mission a “walkabout”, referring to the human geologists that explore the perimeter of an area before the interior.