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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Opportunity Anniversary Nears, Still Imaging

Opportunity, the Mars Exploration Rover that landed in the Meridiani Planum on Jan. 25, 2004, has chosen a spot with a view to celebrate its seventh anniversary on the red planet.
From the lip of the 80-meter (262-ft.) Santa Maria Crater (lower righthand image), Opportunity is using its mast-mounted camera to image stratification in the impacted rock. Formed by a relatively recent impact, the small crater still is old enough to have accumulated dunes on its floor. The rover will spend two months at Santa Maria before moving on to Endeavour, the large crater visible on the right of the lefthand overhead image tracing Opportunity’s 26.5-km. (16.4-mi.) journey.
That image, and the closer look at top, were collected by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s (MRO) High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera. The orbiter’s Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars has detected clay-bearing minerals called phyllosilicates on the rim of Endeavour. Scientists believe they formed in wet conditions that might have supported life on ancient Mars. The orbiting instrument also has spotted hydrated sulfates on the southeast edge of Santa Maria, and Opportunity will investigate those deposits with its Mossbauer spectrometer before moving on another 6 km. to Endeavour at the end of February.
In the surface photomosaic of raw images from Opportunity’s navigation camera—supplied by Princeton, N.J.-based lecturer Ken Kremer—Endeavour is visible as bumps on the horizon beyond Santa Maria, while the water-bearing sulfates on the far side of the smaller crater are roughly at the center of the image. The overhead MRO closeup at top shows the rover’s stopping points as it approached Santa Maria, with indications of the angles its camera imaged seen as short, dark lines angling off the route.
Spirit, which landed three weeks before Opportunity on the opposite side of the planet, fell silent on March 22, 2010. Controllers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory have been trying to stimulate Spirit into re-establishing communications with a “sweep-and-beep” paging strategy, and are listening for any faint signaling with the MRO and the terrestrial Deep Space Network as the mid-March period of maximum solar energy at the Spirit site approaches.

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