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NASA's Opportunity Rover to Explore Water-Carved Mars Gully for the First Time

Oct 10, 2016 04:00 AM EDT
Mars Rover Opportunity
NASA's Mars Opportunity rover will drive down the Endeavor Crater to see if the gullies were made indeed made by flowing water.
(Photo : NASA/JPL/Cornell via Getty Images)

NASA's Opportunity rover will attempt to explore and visit Mars gullies that no Mars rovers have attempted before. Ancient Martian fluids, like water, may have caused the formation of the gullies inside the craters on the surface of Mars.

This is the first time a Mars rover by NASA will drive down a gully that could have been carved by water or other flowing liquid based on the initial findings by scientists included in the 12-year mission of the rover.

Opportunity is also the longest active rover on the red planet and NASA chose it to perform an exploration of the interior part of a crater for the first time. The rover recently received a mission extension that will last for another two years starting Oct. 1, the latest extension since Opportunity began its quest in 2004.

"We have now exceeded the prime-mission duration by a factor of 50," Opportunity project manager John Callas of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said in a statement. "Milestones like this are reminders of the historic achievements made possible by the dedicated people entrusted to build and operate this national asset for exploring Mars," Callas added.

The gullies are located in the "Bitterroot Valley" of the western rim of the Endeavor Crater. The crater, that was created by a meteor impact billions of years ago has a basin of 14 miles (22 kilometers) in diameter. The Opportunity rover has been near the crater since 201; before that, Opportunity had already studied smaller craters in the area. By studying the craters, Opportunity found evidence of acidic ancient substance that could be water. This substance managed changed the landscape by soaking the underground layers of the Martian terrain.

The rover will drive down the gully that cuts through west-to-east of the rim by hand. The area is located a mile away in the south of the current rover position that is as big as two football fields.

"We are confident this is a fluid-carved gully, and that water was involved," Opportunity principal investigator Steve Squyres of Cornell University sad in a statement. "Fluid-carved gullies on Mars have been seen from orbit since the 1970s, but none had been examined up close on the surface before," Squyres added.

Opportunity's new mission aims to know if the gullies are indeed made by debris flow with rubble transported by lubricated water or by flow with only water content. In exploring never-before-seen areas on Mars, scientists are expecting to receive new knowledge from the unknown terrain as well. The current mission will give light to the existence of ancient fluids, like water on Mars.


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