After a nearly three year journey, NASA's Mars rover "Opportunity" has reached its destination at a edge of a crater-rim , sending back photographs of never seen before rocks.
On Aug. 9, the golf cart-sized rover relayed its arrival at a location named Spirit Point on the planet's Endeavor crater. The crater is 14 miles in diameter.
"NASA is continuing to write remarkable chapters in our nation's story of exploration with discoveries on Mars and trips to an array of challenging new destinations," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. "Opportunity's findings and data from the upcoming Mars Science Laboratory will play a key role in making possible future human missions to Mars and other places where humans have not yet been."
Scientists are hoping to see much older rocks and terrains than those examined by Opportunity during its first seven years on Mars, especially after researchers identified clay minerals that may have formed in an early warmer and wetter period.
"We're soon going to get the opportunity to sample a rock type the rovers haven't seen yet," said Matthew Golombek, Mars Exploration Rover science team member, at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. "Clay minerals form in wet conditions so we may learn about a potentially habitable environment that appears to have been very different from those responsible for the rocks comprising the plains."
NASA chose to name the destination Spirit Point to commemorate its other rover which stopped communicating in March 2010. Spirit's mission officially concluded in May.
"Our arrival at this destination is a reminder that these rovers have continued far beyond the original three-month mission," said John Callas, Mars Exploration Rover project manager at JPL.
NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which launched Aug. 12, 2005, is searching for evidence that water persisted on the Martian surface for a long period of time.
Other Mars missions have shown water flowed across the surface in the planet's history, but scientists have not determined if water remained long enough to provide a habitat for life.
NASA launched the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity in the summer of 2003, and after completing their missions in April 2004, have been operating for years on extended missions.
A portion of the west rim of Endeavour crater sweeps southward in this color view from NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity. This crater -- with a diameter of about 14 miles (22 kilometers) -- is more than 25 times wider than any that Opportunity has previously approached during the rover's 90 months on Mars. The view is presented in false color to emphasize differences among materials in the rocks and the soils. This view combines exposures taken by Opportunity's panoramic camera (Pancam) on the 2,678th Martian day, or sol, of the rover's work on Mars (Aug. 6, 2011) before driving on that sol. The subsequent Sol 2678 drive covered 246 feet (75.26 meters), more than half of the remaining distance to the rim of the crater. Opportunity arrived at the rim during its next drive, on Sol 2681 (Aug. 9, 2011). Endeavour crater has been the rover team's destination for Opportunity since the rover finished exploring Victoria crater in August 2008. Endeavour offers access to older geological deposits than any Opportunity has seen before. The closest of the distant ridges visible along the Endeavour rim is informally named "Solander Point." Opportunity may investigate that area in the future. The rover's first destination on the rim, called "Spirit Point" in tribute to Opportunity's now-inactive twin, Spirit, is to the left (north) of this scene. The lighter-toned rocks closer to the rover in this view are similar to the rocks Opportunity has driven over for most of the mission. However, the darker-toned and rougher rocks just beyond that might be a different type for Opportunity to investigate. The ground in the foreground is covered with iron-rich spherules, nicknamed "blueberries," which Opportunity has observed frequently since the first days after landing. They are about 0.2 inch (5 millimeters) or more in diameter. Images combined into this view were taken through three different Pancam filters admitting light with wavelengths centered at 753 nanometers (near infrared), 535 nanometers (green) and 432 nanometers (violet). Seams have been eliminated from the sky portion of the mosaic to better simulate the vista a person standing on Mars would see. NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/ASU
A portion of the west rim of Endeavour crater sweeps southward in this color view from NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity. NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/ASU
NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity arrived at the rim of Endeavour crater on Aug. 9, 2011, after a trek of more than 13 miles (21 kilometers) lasting nearly three years since departing the rover's previous major destination, Victoria crater, in August 2008. After arrival, Opportunity used its panoramic camera (Pancam) to record the images combined into this mosaic view. The view scene shows the "Spirit Point" area of the rim, including a small crater, "Odyssey" on the rim, and the interior of Endeavour beyond. NASA/JPL-Caltech
NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity arrived at the rim of Endeavour crater on Aug. 9, 2011, after a trek of more than 13 miles (21 kilometers) lasting nearly three years since departing the rover's previous major destination, Victoria crater, in August 2008. After arrival, Opportunity used its panoramic camera (Pancam) to record the images combined into this mosaic view. The view scene shows the "Spirit Point" area of the rim, including a small crater, "Odyssey" on the rim, and the interior of Endeavour beyond. Endeavour crater is about 14 miles (22 kilometers) in diameter and may expose geological records older than any Opportunity has seen in the rovers 90 months on Mars. NASA/JPL-Caltech