Washington, 28 Sep 2006
NASA's Mars Rover Opportunity has arrived at the rim of a crater about five times wider than a previous stadium-sized crater it studied for six months.
Initial images from the rover's first overlook after a 21-month journey to Victoria crater show rugged walls with layers of exposed rock and a floor blanketed with dunes. The far wall is about 800 meters from the rover, according to a September press release from NASAâ€™s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California.
"This is a geologist's dream come true," said Steve Squyres of Cornell University in New York, principal investigator for NASA's twin rovers, Opportunity and Spirit.
"Those layers of rock, if we can get to them,â€ he added, â€œwill tell us new stories about the environmental conditions long ago. We especially want to learn whether the wet era that we found recorded in the rocks closer to the landing site extended farther back in time. The way to find that out is to go deeper, and Victoria may let us do that."
Opportunity has been exploring Mars since January 2004, more than 10 times longer than its original mission of three months. It has driven more than 9.2 kilometers.
Most of that distance was to get from Endurance crater to Victoria crater, across a flat plain pocked with smaller craters and strewn with sand ripples. The rover made frequent stops to examine intriguing rocks, and one large sand ripple kept the rover trapped for more than five weeks.
â€œWe are looking forward to exciting new discoveries as Opportunity begins its new adventure exploring Victoria crater," said Cindy Oda, a Mars rover mission manager at JPL.
Spirit, halfway around Mars and farther south from the planet's equator, has been staying at one northward-tilted position through the southern Mars winter to collect the maximum energy supply from its solar panels. That rover is conducting studies that benefit from its fixed location, such as monitoring the effects of wind on dust. It will begin driving again when the Martian spring increases the amount of solar power available.
Operations for both rovers will be minimized for much of October because Mars passes nearly behind the sun from Earth's perspective, making radio communication more difficult.
Opportunity's view into Victoria crater is available at the NASA Web site.