Tag Archives: Opportunity Rover

A zoomed-in section from Opportunity's 360-panorama -- the last image that the rover beamed back before it shut down for good. Credit: NASA.

This is Opportunity last view from Mars

A zoomed-in section from Opportunity's 360-panorama -- the last image that the rover beamed back before it shut down for good. Credit: NASA.

A zoomed-in section from Opportunity’s 360-panorama — the last image that the rover beamed back before it shut down for good. Credit: NASA.

In June, 2018, a huge dust storm engulfed much of Mars, including the solar panels of the Opportunity rover. NASA’s Opportunity mission had been operating on the red planet for 15 years — a long journey with numerous perils and challenges. However, this particularly intense storm proved to be too much even for Opportunity and after many months of trying to communicate with the rover, NASA engineers officially ended the mission. But before its batteries ran out completely, Opportunity beamed back its very last photo.

“Oppy” took this panorama just before the Martian storm unleashed its fury. It was taken from the rover’s final resting place, a system of shallow troughs ironically called Perseverance Valley.

In the 360-degree picture — which was made by stitching 354 individual images together — you can see an array of interesting geological features, including the Endeavour crater rim and rocky outcrops. For a full, zoomable version of the panorama visit NASA’s website. 

The last panorama picture that Opportunity made. Check out full version at NASA’s website.

“This final panorama embodies what made our Opportunity rover such a remarkable mission of exploration and discovery,” said Opportunity project manager John Callas of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “To the right of center you can see the rim of Endeavor Crater rising in the distance. Just to the left of that, rover tracks begin their descent from over the horizon and weave their way down to geologic features that our scientists wanted to examine up close. And to the far right and left are the bottom of Perseverance Valley and the floor of Endeavour crater, pristine and unexplored, waiting for visits from future explorers.”

To capture each individual image in the 360-panorama, the rover used its Panoramic Camera (Pancam) between May 13 and June 10, 2018. Most of the panorama was shot using three filters in order to obtain full-color images. However, some of the images, such as those in the bottom left, were taken during the rover’s final days. As the solar panels became covered in dust, Oppy didn’t have enough power to capture these very last images in green and violet filters, which is why some portions are black and white.

Although Opportunity’s mission is over, the rover’s legacy endures through the invaluable science it has enabled but also in the hearts of people around the world.   

“Opportunity’s scientific discoveries contributed to our unprecedented understanding of the planet’s geology and environment, laying the groundwork for future robotic and human missions to the Red Planet.”

Credit: NASA.

NASA bids farewell to 15-year-old rover on Mars

Credit: NASA.

Credit: NASA.

In 2004, a golf-cart-sized rover touched down in Meridiani Planum, a plain located 2 degrees south of the Martian equator. Its mission was supposed to last 90 days — but to everyone’s surprise, it remained operational for more than 5,000 days! The resilient Opportunity rover has provided invaluable scientific contributions and faced numerous perils along the years. Alas, all good things must come to an end. Last June, a huge dust storm wrapped around the planet, and Opportunity wasn’t spared. For months, NASA’s engineers had been struggling to regain contact with their rover, but to no avail. On February 13, Opportunity’s mission was finally declared complete.

“For more than a decade, Opportunity has been an icon in the field of planetary exploration, teaching us about Mars’ ancient past as a wet, potentially habitable planet and revealing uncharted Martian landscapes,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said in a statement. “Whatever loss we feel now must be tempered with the knowledge that the legacy of Opportunity continues, both on the surface of Mars with the Curiosity rover and InSight lander and in the clean rooms of [NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory], where the upcoming Mars 2020 rover is taking shape.”
Opportunity launched in 2003, along with its twin, the Spirit rover. The 15-year-long mission has led to many discoveries about Mars, showing that the planet was once wet and may have supported habitable conditions for microbial life. It was thanks to Opportunity that we now know that ancient Mars was a totally different place from the barren, desolate world that is the Red Planet today.
Besides sampling Martian soil and rocks, Opportunity also provided unprecedented views of the Martian landscape, having captured 217,594 raw images. The image below is the last one that Opportunity’s panoramic camera captured before it signaled that things were getting too dark and was running low on power.
Credit: NASA.

Credit: NASA.

This image was taken a week before the storm in Perseverance Valley. Credit: NASA.

This image was taken a week before the storm in Perseverance Valley. Credit: NASA.

The mission finally came to an end after a dust storm covered the rover’s solar panels in June 2018. NASA engineers immediately placed the rover in hibernation mode in order to save energy, hoping the wind might eventually clean the panels. Something similar had happened in 2014, and everybody was rooting for a comeback. But after no fewer than 835 recovery commands, Opportunity remained silent. Ironically, the rover got stranded in Perseverance Valley.
According to NASA, even if the dust storm had not covered Opportunity, its days were numbered. The years of braving Martian weather had taken their toll on the rover, which had an already malfunctioning heater, internal clock, and flash memory.
While Opportunity’s mission is now officially over, its legacy carries on, with treasure troves of data keeping researchers busy for years to come. Meanwhile, the torch has been passed to the Curiosity rover and the stationary InSight lander.

 

Opportunity vastly surpassed all expectations and odds. This groundbreaking mission will continue to live inside our hearts as a symbol of endurance and exploration. Farewell, Opportunity!

The sun rising over the Martian landscape. Credit: NASA.

Scientists turn Opportunity’s 5,000th Martian sunrise into music

The sun rising over the Martian landscape. Credit: NASA.

The sun rising over the Martian landscape. Credit: NASA.

NASA’s Opportunity rover has been stranded for the better part of the year in Mars’ Perseverance Valley. For months, NASA has been unable to restore communication with the rover, which had proven itself extremely resilient up until the very end. But even though Opportunity might never come back online, it still has many gifts and surprises to offer that will keep researchers busy for years to come. Most recently, a pair of creative scientists turned an image of the rover’s 5,000th sunrise on Mars into music using a special image diagnosis technique.

The technique in question, called “image sonification”, has proven itself very useful across numerous domains, from studying the characteristics of planet surfaces and atmospheres, to analyzing weather changes or detecting volcanic eruptions. In this particular case, Genevieve Williams, a lecturer at the University of Exeter, and Domenico Vicinanza, director of the Sound and Game Engineering group at Anglia Ruskin University, scanned the image of the sunrise pixel by pixel, from left to right. They then assigned pitch and melodies to certain characteristics such as terrain elevation, brightness, or color.

The end result is quite breathtaking. All starting from a regular image, the two researchers created a “Mars soundscape” that faithfully captures the aesthetics of the landscape. For instance, the dark background has been turned into slow, low-pitched harmonies while the sun’s brightness is represented by higher-pitched, brighter sounds.

The two-minute piece of music will premiere this week at NASA’s booth at the Supercomputing SC18 Conference in Dallas. At the site, the audience will be able to completely immerse themselves in the music via transducers attached to the hand, which turn sound into mechanical vibrations.

This wasn’t the first time the researchers used image sonification. Previously, Vicinanza composed music using particle data from the Higgs boson experiments and other major experiments at the Large Hadron Collider. One of the tracks was written for harp, guitar, two violins, a keyboard, a clarinet, and a flute — you can stream it right now in the player below.

As for Opportunity, the rover stopped communicating with NASA in June after it was engulfed by a massive sandstorm. The rover’s main problem is that it cannot recharge — its solar panels are dusted over, and there’s not enough sunlight. It’s remarkable, in the first place, that the rover lasted for so long, having extended its 3-month operational lifetime by 14 years. Curiosity also had to brave that same dust storm but it easily survived thanks to its nuclear reactor.

 

 

Nine images from the Mars rover Opportunity’s Navcam show the types of clouds seen over the first 9 years of the mission. The cirrus clouds are seen against a moderately dusty background sky. Most or all of the clouds are water ice, with images showing clouds occurring only during the “aphelion cloud belt season” when water ice clouds are expected. The top row shows images from inside Endurance crater. All images were taken during the Martian winter. (Photos: NASA / JPL /Texas A&M) )

Dusty rovers and weather on Mars

Mark Lemmon is an associate professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University and a camera operator for numerous Mars missions, especially those involving the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity. These two rovers are considered nothing short of heroes by the men and women at mission control who were part of the projects. Spirit, for instance, was launched 2004 and was expected to last only about 90 “sols,” which is a day on Mars but slightly longer than an Earth day at 24 hours and 39 minutes long. It continued to roam Mars and transmit valuable images and data until 2010. Opportunity is still alive to this day.

As one of key imaging crew members for Spirit and Opportunity, Lemmon had direct contact with some of the mission’s greatest findings and challenges as well. Their biggest enemy? Dust!

An extreme and inhospitable planet

Nine images from the Mars rover Opportunity’s Navcam show the types of clouds seen over the first 9 years of the mission. The cirrus clouds are seen against a moderately dusty background sky. Most or all of the clouds are water ice, with images showing clouds occurring only during the “aphelion cloud belt season” when water ice clouds are expected. The top row shows images from inside Endurance crater. All images were taken during the Martian winter. (Photos: NASA / JPL /Texas A&M) )

Nine images from the Mars rover Opportunity’s Navcam show the types of clouds seen over the first 9 years of the mission. The cirrus clouds are seen against a moderately dusty background sky. Most or all of the clouds are water ice, with images showing clouds occurring only during the “aphelion cloud belt season” when water ice clouds are expected. The top row shows images from inside Endurance crater. All images were taken during the Martian winter. (Photos: NASA / JPL /Texas A&M) )

Mars is a barren wasteland, but while it may not seem like much is happening from up afar, make no mistake – things are pretty extreme on the Martian surface. Lemmon says that Martian weather, even at the planet’s “tropical” sites visited by the rovers, is dominated by dusty skies, intense storm seasons when Mars is close to the sun and harsh temperatures during the time of the Martian year when it is the farthest from the sun. Nighttime temperatures can frequently reach minus 90 degrees Celsius (-130 Fahrenheit) and reduced solar power in winter restricted the operation of the twin rovers.

Unlike the husky Curiosity rover which is powered by a radioisotope thermoelectric generator (nuclear power), Opportunity and Spirit only had solar panels and batteries to power them. As dust gathered on the solar panels during storms, this caused the rovers to enter standby over whole seasons at a time.

This photo from Mars shows the analemma -- the seasonal pattern of the sun's motion. On Earth, it would look like a Figure 8, but on Mars, it resembles a teardrop. (Photo: NASA / JPL / Cornell / ASU / Texas A&M)

This photo from Mars shows the analemma — the seasonal pattern of the sun’s motion. On Earth, it would look like a Figure 8, but on Mars, it resembles a teardrop. (Photo: NASA / JPL / Cornell / ASU / Texas A&M)

Dust levels on the panels are checked every sol at 11 a.m., and “when we do, we can see the seasonal pattern of the sun’s motion, which is called an analemma. An analemma on Earth shows the Earth’s axial tilt, which gives us our four seasons. On Earth, an analemma looks like a figure 8, but on Mars, it looks like a teardrop,” says Lemmon.

An interesting fact about Martin weather you might not know is the influence on the appearance of sunset. On Mars, during sunset the sun often appears blue.

“We have known since the 1970s that Martian sunsets tend to be blue, but recent images vividly show Martian sunsets,” Lemmon adds.

“The combination of dust particles and atmospheric conditions on Mars makes for some unusual sunset colors, but do not yield the spectacular sunsets we sometimes see on Earth.”

Lemmon described his 9 years of dusty weather and duty on Martian rover missions in the current issue of Icarus, a planetary science journal.

Mars researchers find ‘strongest evidence’ that Mars supported life

Exobiologists have found what they believe to be the clearest evidence that Mars supported life – though it may not seem obvious at a first glance.

mars crater

The research published in Nature Geoscience shows all the needed ingredients for life in a huge crater that goes up to 5km below the planet’s surface. The McLaughlin crater, created when a meteorite smashed into Mars is an area of extreme interests, as the team from London’s Natural History Museum and the University of Aberdeen in Scotland showed.

The impact of the meteorite not only created the crater, but in the process forced up rocks from kilometres below the surface around the crater – rocks which are now rich in clays, minerals greatly altered by water – the key ingredient for life. Their research suggests that those deposits formed as a result of groundwater upwelling on Mars and could preserve critical evidence of a deep biosphere on Mars. According to their study, it’s extremely likely to find evidence of life in that area.

“We could be so close to discovering if there is, or was, life on Mars”, report co-author Prof John Parnell told the Telegraph.

Also, this is further evidence that Mars and Earth have or at least had pretty similar conditions, in some regards.

“We know from studies that a substantial proportion of all life on Earth is also in the subsurface and by studying the McLaughlin Crater we can see similar conditions beneath the surface of Mars thanks to observations on the rocks brought up by the meteorite strike. “There can be no life on the surface of Mars because it is bathed in radiation and it’s completely frozen. However, life in the sub surface would be protected from that. “And there is no reason why there isn’t bacteria or other microbes that were or still are living in the small cracks well below the surface of Mars,” Prof John Parnell said.

Lead author went even further, explaining that even life on Earth (and on Mars) could have actually originated below ground.

“Whether the Martian geologic record contains life or not, analysis of these types of rocks would certainly teach us a tremendous amount about early chemical processes in the solar system,” Dr Michalski said.

The discovery comes at a time of unprecedented interest aimed at Mars, with all eyes aimed at the Mars Curiosity rover, which is set to begin drilling into Martian rocks soon. However, despite the great arguments brought to light it’s still not settled if Mars has life, or had in any time in its history – practical observations will settle that – both by Curiosity and the older but just as loved Opportunity rover.

Via Associated Press

Mars Global Surveyor photo of mars 1999

Mars covered in oceans of water: how the red planet might have looked billions of years ago [FANTASTIC PHOTOS]

There seems to be consisting evidence supplied both by past and recent rover missions – like the ever sturdy Opportunity, the eager newcomer Curiosity – and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter – a spacecraft currently hovering over Mars – that our neighboring red planet was once most likely covered by oceans and lakes and was layered by a thick atmosphere, very much similar to Earth. Kevin Gill, a New Hampshire software engineer, digitally painted how Mars might have looked like some two billion years ago using scientific data and human imagination – the end result is strikingly provocative and stunning at the same time.

An artist’s impression of what ancient Mars may have looked like, based on geological data. Image by Ittiz.

Gill used an open-source geospatial program to design the terrain for the “paradisaical” Mars, while atmosphere and vegetation features were added based on NASA’s Blue Marble: Next Generation imagery. The painting’s geological features were plotted based on genuine elevation data from topographical NASA mappings. Countless surveys have revealed Mars’ surface was layered with river deltas, gullies, and oceanic coastlines. Also, previous findings suggest that Mars was once covered in a thick atmosphere, which gradually became ever thinner from the lack of a magnetic field. Concerning the vegetation, clouds and other features painted in these quite exquisite views, these were all based on Gill’s artistic impression of how Mars might have looked like in its heyday.

“There is no scientific reasoning behind how I painted it; I tried to envision how the land would appear given certain features or the effects of likely atmospheric climate. For example, I didn’t see much green taking hold within the area of Olympus Mons and the surrounding volcanoes, both due to the volcanic activity and the proximity to the equator,” Gill says.

“This wasn’t intended as an exhaustive scientific scenario as I’m sure (and expect) some of my assumptions will prove incorrect,” Gill continued. “I’m hoping at least to trigger the imagination, so please enjoy!”

As presented above, Mars would definitely be capable of harboring life, although no one is currently capable of positively asserting that life was or is presented on the red planet – so far. This is what Curiosity is tasked with and this is why we’re so keen on following the rover’s every step. Maybe an even more interesting idea inevitably pops when looking at these dazzling photos – can we, humans, turn these stunning views of Mars into reality through terraforming?

The image below is an actual rendition of Mars as seen from space captured by the Mars Global Surveyor in 1999.

Mars Global Surveyor photo of mars 1999

Curiosity Rover

Curiosity drill malfunction could fry the rover’s electronics and jeopardize the entire mission

Curiosity Rover

The Mars Curiosity rover is preparing to use its drilling tool for the first time, however as preparations for the operation are being carefully made, NASA engineers are frightened that a potential malfunction of the boring drill might cause an entire electrical disaster. This might mean that the entire rover could get irrecoverably fried.

The issue lies with a bond in the drilling mechanism which is particularly subjected to fail. If this happens, an electrical short could threaten to knock out the entire rover.

“Unless you do something about it, all hell breaks loose electronically, because it takes our power bus and rattles it around,” Curiosity chief engineer Rob Manning, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., told SPACE.com in a video interview. “It’s almost like the drill grabs the rover and shakes the whole thing electronically.”

Luckily, this grave issue had been spotted while the rover was still on Earth. Still, engineers only had a month or two to work-out a fix before Curiosity had to be launched millions of miles into space. Engineers eventually bolted in an additional set of wires that could be used to keep Curiosity’s power bus safe, by shorting it temporarily in advance of any big drill problems.

Still, Curiosity mission officials claim without a doubt that the flaw will not affect the rover’s integrity during its minimal mission – a two year slate during which the rover needs to determine  if the Red Planet could ever have hosted microbial life. Of course, JPL scientists are looking to remotely operate the rover for as long as it is scientifically feasible. The Opportunity rover, Curiosity’s predecessor, touched down on Mars in 2004 for a planned mission of 90 Martian days – after more than 8 years Opportunity is still exploring Mars well and safe, constantly reporting back with important scientific findings.

Hopefully, Curiosity will outlive Opportunity and provide even great advancements in our understanding of the Red Planet, considering it is a lot bigger and more advanced than any of its predecessors. One of its advanced instruments is this nerve wracking drill that’s been causing so much stress lately. The instrument can dig up to an inch into the Martian rock, deeper than any rover has been able to go before.

(c) NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./ USGS/Modesto Junior College

Tiny Martian spherical rocks puzzle scientists and shifts attention back to Opportunity

(c) NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./ USGS/Modesto Junior College

(c) NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./ USGS/Modesto Junior College

In the past couple of months, all Mars-related attention has been almost unanimously shifted towars the Curiosity rover. Not to discredit any of its achievements thus far, which are just appetizers for marvelous fings to come off Curiosity, but the Opportunity rover has been trailing the Martian surface for the past eight years now, long before Curiosity had its first screw designed on the drawing board, and it’s not showing any hints of ending its scientific exploration mission any time too soon. Its most recent find, a group of spherical rocks of peculiar structure and composition, has baffled NASA scientists, reminding the media and common Mars and space enthusiasts alike that there’s another robot on wheels pitching in, and it’s doing a mighty fine job at it.

During its first run on the red planet, some eight and a half years ago, the Opportunity rover came by a group of spherules on the soil, which were dubbed by scientists as blueberries due to their uncanny resemblance, and which upon closer examination were found to beconcretions formed by action of mineral-laden water inside rocks, evidence of a wet environment on early Mars.

This most recent picture snapped by the same Opportunity rover is a 2.4 inch mosaic made out of four separate images which show small spherical objects approximately one-eighth inch in diameter. Opportunity snapped the images with its Microscopic Imager on the western rim of Endeavour Crater in an outcrop called Kirkwood in the Cape York segment.

“This is one of the most extraordinary pictures from the whole mission,” said Opportunity’s principal investigator, Steve Squyres of Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. “Kirkwood is chock full of a dense accumulation of these small spherical objects. Of course, we immediately thought of the blueberries, but this is something different. We never have seen such a dense accumulation of spherules in a rock outcrop on Mars.”

Although these may look similar to the Martian blueberries, scientists claim that they’re far from being the same rocks. The analysis is still preliminary, but it indicates that these spheres do not have the high iron content of Martian blueberries.

“They are different in concentration. They are different in structure. They are different in composition. They are different in distribution. So, we have a wonderful geological puzzle in front of us. We have multiple working hypotheses, and we have no favorite hypothesis at this time. It’s going to take a while to work this out, so the thing to do now is keep an open mind and let the rocks do the talking,” continued Squyres.

Apparently, the Kirkwood spherical rock formations are broken and eroded by the wind, presenting a concentric structure. Much more analysis is to be made before the NASA scientists can tell for sure what these peculiar rock formation represent. One thing’s for sure though – “they seem to be crunchy on the outside and softer in the middle,” according to Squyres. Yup, ancient martian sweets anyone?

via NASA

 

NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESA/DLR/FU Berlin/MSSS

Mars Curiosity rover bound for Mars crater landing soon

The most sophisticated rover developed by NASA to date, the Mars Curiosity rover, is set to land on the red planet in August. During its one year mission, the rover’s main objective is that of investigating for signs that might hint towards the presence of life, past or present, on Mars. Scientists have unanimously agreed that the best place fur such an investigation is the 3 billion year old Gale Crater.

The time needed by the rover to reach the crater is directly dependent on the landing site, which is the most tricky and important part of the mission at the moment. The Mars Science Laboratory mission is worth $2.5 billion, which would make it extremely unfortunate were it to hit ridge or rock formation. To make sure the rover will land safely on Martian soil, scientists have developed highly complex computer models which take into account a wide arrange of factors.

For the first two rover missions on Mars, Spirit and Opportunity, scientists had a poorer understanding of the dynamics of Mars’ atmosphere compared to what the subsequent decade of Mars exploration has given us. Despite this the landings were sound successes. For the Mars Curiosity rover, its landing ellipse is a lot shorter than its predecessors. When mapping all the possible landing spots for the rover derived from the computer models, you end up with a scatter plot – drawing an oval around these points gives you the landing site ellipse.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESA/DLR/FU Berlin/MSSS

NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESA/DLR/FU Berlin/MSSS

During the first batch of simulations, the landing ellipse used to be 25 kilometers long by 20 kilometers wide, but now after a refined computations, it’s been shortened to 20 by 7, considerably shortening its expected arrival time at the Gale Crater.  Curiosity’s handlers estimate that that will reduce the rover’s traverse time from landing site to mountain base by about four months – if you consider that its nominal mission time is of only one year, this makes for fantastic news!

“The most important thing perhaps is that we are steering to a different place in Gale Crater, which is a giant mountain of sedimentary rock,”  said Curiosity contributor James Wray, an assistant professor of Earth and Atmospheric Science at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Unlike Curiosity’s predecessors, Opportunity and Spirit,  “We are going with the intention of having to drive a long distance before even getting to what we want to study because the mountain is too steep,” Wray said.

Looking for signs of life by reading a 3 billion year old geological time machine

At the 3 billion year old Gale Crater, which was formed after it was struck by a meteorite, the rover will peer through the crater’s three milers of sediment – the perfect location for an investigation looking for signs of life.  Wray said examining Gale Crater will be similar to going through Earth’s history by examining the layers of the Grand Canyon and learning, by the thickness and make up of the rocks, if they were once carved by oceans, lakes or air – basically it will look for signs of water, the main prerequisite for life.

“Basically, you could not have formed at least some of these minerals in some of these stacks of sediments without water,” he said.

Also, before it reaches the Crater, the rover will also collect samples on the run, which will provide scientists with even more details concerning Mars’ geology than prior, thanks to its more advanced instruments than those found on previous rover missions. This will also help NASA scientists gain a better understanding of how future astronauts would fare on Martian terrain. Other factors, important for manned missions, which the Mars Curiosity rover will study in greater detail than before will be radiation levels, organic matter on the Martian surface available, as well methane, which on Earth is produced in a proportion of 98% by living, biological entities.

via planetary.org

Mars Opportunity Rover

Rover snaps self-shot and Mars panorama [STUNNING PHOTO]

Mars Opportunity Rover

After a long and well deserved “hibernation”, the Mars Opportunity Rover was guided out of the rim of the massive Endeavour crater a few weeks ago, where it sat winter out. Before it left though, the Opportunity Rover used its panoramic camera to take about a dozen shots using an assortment of filters of its surroundings.

The images were transmitted back to Earth, where scientist assembled them into a complete photo, captioned right above.

“In order to give the mosaic a rectangular aspect, some small parts of the edges of the mosaic and sky were filled in with parts of an image acquired earlier as part of a 360-degree panorama from the same location,” NASA said.

Photo by NASA.

False colour image of Greeley Haven taken by Opportunity. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/Arizona State Univ

NASA parks Mars Opportunity Rover for the winter

False colour image of Greeley Haven taken by Opportunity. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/Arizona State Univ

False colour image of Greeley Haven taken by Opportunity. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/Arizona State Univ

There’s no bigger drag on a busy Monday morning than finding your car under a heap of snow in the driveway. Taking measures and parking it under some kind shelter, if possible, would be advised if you don’t plan on driving an ice truck. Take NASA for instance, which, like every year, has routed the precious Opportunity Rover, currently the only transmitting machinery left on Mars, to  sit out through out the Martian winter at the rim of the massive Endeavour crater. And, yes, if you were curious it does snow on Mars!

The place selected by NASA for the sitout is called Greeley Haven, in the memory of the  late scientist Ronald Greeley that passed away in October 2011. At the site, Opportunity will be positioned towards the sun-facing slope of the crater to catch the meagre rays of our star on its solar panels. This is the first winter that Opportunity has spent on a slope angling its panels for more collection of sunlight. However, now more than ever, the dust particles collected on top of its solar panels have amounted to a degree such that it makes it necessary for Opportunity to spend the winter there.

Naturally, there’s never a dull day for Opportunity. While parked, it will continue to study rocks near Greeley Haven, collecting and analyzing samples through out the rim of Endeavor. Opportunity, which landed on Mars eight years ago, has driven a total of 21 miles (34 kilometers), and it has taken it three years to reach the crater since it first set its course.

“Greeley Haven provides the proper tilt, as well as a rich variety of potential targets for imaging and compositional and mineralogic studies,” said Jim Bell, lead scientist for the Panoramic Camera (Pancam) on the rover.

“We’ve already found hints of gypsum in the bedrock in this formation, and we know from orbital data that there are clays nearby, too,” he stated.

Greeley Haven, he said, “looks to be a safe and special place that could yield exciting new discoveries about the watery past of Mars.”

image credit

NASA Opportunity Rover finds traces of flowing water on Mars

NASA’s famous rover, Opportunity, seems to have stumbled upon clear evidence that water used to flow on Mars, a long long time ago.

Opportunity was prowling around the Meridiani Planum on Mars, looking at hematite (an iron oxide) when it stumbled upon something which delighted researchers: gypsum. Why is this vein of gypsum so important ? Because this vein could only have been created by flowing water, they claim.

“This tells a slam-dunk story that water flowed through underground fractures in the rock,” says Steve Squyres of Cornell University, lead Opportunity boffin. “This stuff is a fairly pure chemical deposit that formed in place right where we see it. That can’t be said for other gypsum seen on Mars or for other water-related minerals Opportunity has found. It’s not uncommon on Earth, but on Mars, it’s the kind of thing that makes geologists jump out of their chairs.”

The gypsum vein has been named ‘homestake’ by NASA; it is about the size of a human thumb and it protrudes slightly higher than the bedrock it is located in. They believe, after analyzing it with Opportunity’s instruments, that it is mainly made out of hydrated calcium sulphate – gypsum.

However, Opportunity can’t hang on there and analyze the gypsum vein for long; it has to move on towards north-facing slope on the Endeavour Crater in order to align its solar panels properly for the upcoming Martian winter. It’s brother, the Spirit rover, failed to do so in time because it was caught in a crater – and the valiant machine was never heard from again. However, Opportunity surpassed even the most optimistic prognosis, and still continues to provide valuable data to researchers on Earth; now, it has every chance of arriving in a safe place, hibernate, and then go at it again.

NASA’s Curiosity Rover prep to head for Mars

In a week filled with bad news for space exploration, astronomers finally have something to be happy about: the Mars Curiosity rover is ready to head towards the Red Planet, as NASA makes the final preparations for a launch scheduled for November 25.

The rover is currently waiting patiently ontop an Atlas V rocket, just waiting for orders that will come from Cape Canaveral.

“Preparations are on track for launching at our first opportunity,” confirmed Pete Theisinger, Mars Science Laboratory project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. 

”If weather or other factors prevent launching then, we have more opportunities through December 18.”

The one ton rover will begin its land mission from inside Gale crater, near the base of a layered mountain; its main mission is to investigate if environmental conditions could have been favorable enough to support the development of life; but don’t let your imagination fly just yet – at most, researchers are hoping to find clues of microbial life, in the preserved evidence of those conditions.

“Gale gives us a superb opportunity to test multiple potentially habitable environments and the context to understand a very long record of early environmental evolution of the planet,” said John Grotzinger, project scientist for the Mars Science Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.



”The portion of the crater where Curiosity will land has an alluvial fan likely formed by water-carried sediments. Layers at the base of the mountain contain clays and sulfates, both known to form in water.”

Curiosity is supposed to be much heavier and sturdier than its smaller cousins, Spirit and Opportunity – which did an absolutely fantastic job. However, this Martian expedition is expected to be both heavy and tricky; researchers are especially worried about the landing Due to its large mass, an air-bag cushioned touchdown is no longer an option, so engineers have figured out another method with a rocket-powered descent stage.

Via TG Daily

Take a three year trip on Mars alongside the Opportunity Rover

A virtual trek, that is. NASA has just released a stunning video comprised of 309 photos the agency’s Opportunity Rover took during it’s three year journey from the crater Victoria to the crater Endeavor. Although the spanned distance is only 13 miles, the whole trip lasted a whooping three years.

Granted, a relatively animated view of Mars’ surface is an incredible sight by all means, and we can only be grateful to NASA for this opportunity. The transmitted imagery sent back to Earth shows the red planet’s barren surface, with a mountain formation in the horizon as the Opportunity Rover gently strolls along, sometimes turning around to reveal its tracks impregnated in the red soil.

Incredible, isn’t it? You might have found the soundtrack to the video a bit annoying (no, it wasn’t static), however it’s worth noting that it was produced by low-frequency data from the rover’s accelerometer, sped up 1000 times to yield audible frequencies.

“The sound represents the vibrations of the rover while moving on the surface of Mars,” explained Paolo Bellutta, a rover planner at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., who has plotted many of Opportunity’s drives and coordinated production of the video.

“When the sound is louder, the rover was moving on bedrock. When the sound is softer, the rover was moving on sand.”

RELATED: Sunset on Mars

For its Mars surface exploration mission NASA launched two three-month long missions, the Spirit Rover and the Opportunity Rover. The mission, though, was such an unexpected stunning success that the rovers went on to operate and transmit invaluable data for many years after its warranty data. This summer, unfortunately, the Spirit Rover shut down after it got stuck in the soil – Opportunity is still up and running and might still be operational for many more years to come. NASA is slated to launch its next-gen rover Curiosity this summer, which will arrive at Mars’ Gale crater in August 2012.

 

Mars Spirit Rover last transmitted image

The Spirit Rover’s last transmitted image from Mars

Mars Spirit Rover last transmitted image

Click for larger view. (c) NASA

Captioned above is the very last piece of transmitted imagery by the now defunct Mars Spirit Rover (rest its soul; HA!), before the harsh Martian winter forced it into submission; and it’s quite the vista as well – the Columbia Hills.

This was transmitted during Spirit’s  2,175th sol on Mars, when it got stuck in the sand and was unable to turn its solar panels towards the sun for energy. A sol is what Martian heads NASA officials use to describe a day on the red planet, which is 3% longer than on Earth.

This happened almost a year ago, and since then scientists have made all sorts of attempts to revive the rover, before giving up last week due to lack of resources. Its twin, Opportunity, is still going strong on the other side of Mars.

“We have exhausted all the likely scenarios for contacting Spirit, and the likelihood of success is now practically zero,” said John Callas, Project Manager for the Mars Exploration Rover mission. “And at this point, the season is declining and we couldn’t do any of the planned science objectives even if we heard from her now. The Deep Space Network will occasionally listen for Spirit when resources permit, but we have decided not to do anything past the last commands that will done tonight.”

The Mars Spirit Rover. (c) NASA

The Mars Spirit Rover - artist impression. (c) NASA

The Spirit Mars Rover landed on on the planet January 3, 2004, and as part of its mission it was planned to service for 90 days – it ended up climbing rocks, performing experiments and transmitting back to Earth invaluable data about Mars for another 6 years.

“We drove it, literally, until its wheels came off and at the beginning of the mission, we never expected that would be the way this project would end up,” said Dave Lavery, MER program director at NASA Headquarters.

“We always knew we would get to this point,” Callas said during a teleconference with the press, “and really, that’s what we wanted to do, to utilize these rovers as much as possible and wear them out. We are here today because we really wore Spirit out. If on sol 90 (the 90th Martian day of the mission) someone would have said this was going to last another 6 years, we just wouldn’t have believed it.”

The image was shared by NASA as part of its Astronomy Picture of the Day feature.