Opportunity Front Hazcam image taken on Sol 4895.
Credit: NASA/JPL



NASA’s stalwart Opportunity Mars rover is a busy planetary prowler since it landed in Meridiani Planum back on January 25, 2004.

The robot has now chalked up roughly 28 miles (45.04 kilometers) of travel.

Opportunity is continuing winter exploration of “Perseverance Valley” on the west rim of the Noachian-aged Endeavour Crater.

Opportunity Panoramic Camera image taken on Sol 4896.
Credit: NASA/JPL


Popping a wheelie

The rover is investigating a site where there is evidence of scouring, by wind or otherwise. Back on October 26, on Sol 4890, the Mars machinery bumped uphill about 13 feet (4 meters) to reach some targets of interest to the science team.

Because of the steep terrain, the left rear wheel popped up as a wheelie. Before another further motion or robotic arm use on the rover, the wheelie had to be relaxed to reacquire solid footing.

Opportunity Navigation Camera image acquired on Sol 4890.
Credit: NASA/JPL


Bedrock, wind tails

Inside Outer Space asked Ray Arvidson of Washington University in Saint Louis, deputy principal investigator of the rover mission for an update on the exploration robot.

Opportunity Navigation Camera image acquired on Sol 4891.
Credit: NASA/JPL

“Opportunity is currently over the northern side of a set of outcrops called La Bajada, where Pancam images show what appears to be highly etched bedrock, with candidate wind tails pointing uphill,” Arvidson says.



Downhill drive

The rover is finishing up Microscopic Imager and Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) outcrop measurements and likely drive downhill to its next science station early next week.

“The new location will be governed by the presence of a ‘lily pad’ with requisite north facing slopes,” Arvidson adds, “so that Opportunity has sufficient power to do science, together with the scientific importance of the location.”

Credit: Ray Arvidson and the Athena Science Team



Lily pad to lily pad

Opportunity will be driving from “lily pad” to “lily pad” for the next several months, Arvidson points out, and will be acquiring ground-truth data to help understand how Perseverance Valley formed.




Multiple hypotheses

Arvidson recently presented an overview of orbital imagery and Opportunity’s on-going ground work at the Geological Society of America Meeting in Seattle. At that gathering he showcased multiple hypotheses that scientists are trying to test regarding Perseverance Valley.

At Perseverance Valley, Opportunity field work is underway and “much remains to be done” as the rover’s power increases after an October 31 winter minimum.

Credit: Ray Arvidson and the Athena Science Team

Unique settings

Perseverance Valley offers unique topographic and morphologic settings, Arvidson reported. The site exhibits considerable diffusive smoothing and regolith deposits. Wind has shaped outcrops at centimeter to 10’s of centimeter scales, he said.

Speculating, Arvidson added that the valley indicates previous climate snowpack accumulation, some melting with fluvial and debris flow activity, drying out, letting diffusive smoothing and wind action dominate.

That said, “let us finish the field work and analyze all the data before we come to final conclusion,” Arvidson said.

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