(Sen) - NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity is celebrating the start of its tenth year on Mars with two stunning new images and further investigations of the Red Planet.
Nine years ago today, on January 25th 2004 (UTC) Opportunity landed at Eagle Crater in the Meridiani Planum region of Mars. It was expected to keep working for three months and drive about 2,000 feet (600 meters) in search of evidence for water. During those first three months the rover came across minerals that only form in the presence of water, evidence that long ago water soaked the ground and flowed across the surface of Mars.
Since then Opportunity has operated for 36 times longer than the three months planned as its prime mission, driving 22.03 miles (35.46 kilometers) contolled by the mission's team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) based in Pasadena, California.
"What's most important is not how long it has lasted or even how far it has driven, but how much exploration and scientific discovery Opportunity has accomplished," said JPL's John Callas, manager of NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Project.
This month, to celebrate its ninth anniversary exploring the Red Planet, Opportunity is using cameras on its mast and tools on its robotic arm to investigate outcrops containing veined rocks, on the western rim of Endeavour Crater. This area of the rim is called "Matijevic Hill," in honor of the late Jacob Matijevic, who for several years led the engineering team for both Opportunity and its twin, Spirit, which ceased operations in 2010. The rover team have prepared both a colour panorama and a stereo panorama of the Matijevic Hill area to mark the anniversary.
An impact from a celestial object dug Endeavour Crater, which is 14 miles (22 kilometers) in diameter, more than 3 billion years ago, pushing rocks onto the rim. Since the impact, those rocks may have been altered by environmental conditions. Sorting out the relative ages of local outcrops is a key to understanding the area's environmental history and is providing information about a different, possibly older wet environment, less acidic than the conditions that left clues the rover found earlier in the mission. Opportunity's work goes on.
JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Exploration Rover Project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL also manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project and its rover, Curiosity.