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NASA's Opportunity Rover to Begin 10th Year of Mars Exploration

Jan 23, 2013 02:30 AM EST
As NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity neared the ninth anniversary of its landing on Mars, the rover was working in the "Matijevic Hill" area seen in this view from Opportunity's panoramic camera (Pancam).
(Photo : NASA/JPL-Caltech/Arizona State Univ)

NASA's Mars rover Opportunity, which is about to start its 10th year, is still working in amazing condition since it landed on the Red Planet in 2004.

The veteran Opportunity rover landed on a plain known as Meridiani Planum, located near the equator. The rover's touchdown followed just few weeks after its twin rover, Spirit, landed on the opposite side of the planet.

The Opportunity was given an assignment to work for just three months, drive about 2,000 feet (600 meters), and provide the tools required for scientists to probe if the region's environment had ever been wet. Ever since it landed on Martian soil, Opportunity has transmitted several images and data showing evidence that water once flowed across the Martian surface.

The rover, which is completing its ninth anniversary of Mars exploration this week, has driven 22.03 miles since its touchdown in 2004. "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," JPL's John Callas, manager of NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Project, said in a statement.

Opportunity is currently examining veined rocks on the rim of an ancient crater - the 14-mile-wide Endeavour. The rover will continue to carry out the geological survey of "Matijevic Hill", located in the Cape York segment of the rim, overlooking Endeavour Crater. "Matijevic Hill" is an area where Mars orbiters have already picked up clues of a possibly older, wet environment and less acidic conditions.

The rover has found spherical rocks that are formed when minerals in water precipitate and settle in sedimentary rocks. The spherical rocks initially resembled Martian blueberries that were earlier detected at many sites on the Martian soil. But scientists later noticed that the spherical rock formation lacked the iron content that is found in Martian blueberries. The structure and composition of the rocks was also different from the blueberries.

As Opportunity continues to explore the Endeavour crater, another Mars rover Curiosity, which was launched last year, is all set to drill into a flat rock with pale veins. The rock lies within a shallow depression called "Yellowknife Bay" in Gale crater. The flat rock is believed to hold clues for a wet history on the Red Planet.

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