Mars Opportunity rover to head towards monstrously huge Endeavour Crater

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Here's the story.

Opportunity has spent the last two years at a crater called Victoria, that looks like this from above:

and this from the side:

with a depth of 70 metres and a diameter of 750 metres. That alone was exciting enough and few thought that the rover would make it out of there alive but the scientific return alone was worth the risk, so they sent it in and it came back out just a week or two ago.

The next crater it'll be making its way towards makes Victoria look tiny in comparison though:

As the page says:

PASADENA, Calif. -- NASA's Mars Rover Opportunity is setting its sights on a crater more than 20 times larger than its home for the past two years.

To reach the crater the rover team calls Endeavour, Opportunity would need to drive approximately 12 kilometers to the southeast, matching the total distance it has traveled since landing on Mars in early 2004. The rover climbed out of Victoria Crater earlier this month.

"We may not get there, but it is scientifically the right direction to go anyway," said Steve Squyres of Cornell University, principal investigator for the science instruments on Opportunity and its twin rover, Spirit. "This crater is staggeringly large compared to anything we've seen before."

Getting there would yield a look inside a bowl 22 kilometers across. Scientists expect to see a much deeper stack of rock layers than those examined by Opportunity in Victoria Crater.

"I would love to see that view from the rim," Squyres said. "But even if we never get there, as we move southward we expect to be getting to younger and younger layers of rock on the surface. Also, there are large craters to the south that we think are sources of cobbles that we want to examine out on the plain. Some of the cobbles are samples of layers deeper than Opportunity will ever see, and we expect to find more cobbles as we head toward the south."

Opportunity will have to pick up the pace to get there. The rover team estimates Opportunity may be able to travel about 100 metres each day it is driven toward the Endeavour crater. Even at that pace, the journey could take two years.
Exciting stuff. By that time the next rover will have landed on Mars too.


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