[meteorite-list] Mars Rover Opportunity Begins Study of Valley's Origin

Ron Baalke baalke at zagami.jpl.nasa.gov
Fri Jun 30 18:47:30 EDT 2017


Mars Rover Opportunity Begins Study of Valley's Origin
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
May 15, 2017

NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity has reached the main destination 
of its current two-year extended mission -- an ancient fluid-carved valley 
incised on the inner slope of a vast crater's rim.

As the rover approached the upper end of "Perseverance Valley" in early 
May, images from its cameras began showing parts of the area in greater 
resolution than what can be seen in images taken from orbit above Mars.

"The science team is really jazzed at starting to see this area up close 
and looking for clues to help us distinguish among multiple hypotheses 
about how the valley formed," said Opportunity Project Scientist Matt 
Golombek of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

The process that carved Perseverance Valley into the rim of Endeavour 
Crater billions of years ago has not yet been identified. Among the possibilities: 
It might have been flowing water, or might have been a debris flow in 
which a small amount of water lubricated a turbulent mix of mud and boulders, 
or might have been an even drier process, such as wind erosion. The mission's 
main objective with Opportunity at this site is to assess which possibility 
is best supported by the evidence still in place.

The upper end of the valley is at a broad notch in the crest of the crater 
rim. The rover team's plan for investigating the area begins with taking 
sets of images of the valley from two widely separated points at that 
dip in the rim. This long-baseline stereo imaging will provide information 
for extraordinarily detailed three-dimensional analysis of the terrain. 
The valley extends down from the rim's crest line into the crater, at 
a slope of about 15 to 17 degrees for a distance of about two football 

"The long-baseline stereo imaging will be used to generate a digital elevation 
map that will help the team carefully evaluate possible driving routes 
down the valley before starting the descent," said Opportunity Project 
Manager John Callas of JPL.

Reversing course back uphill when partway down could be difficult, so 
finding a path with minimum obstacles will be important for driving Opportunity 
through the whole valley. Researchers intend to use the rover to examine 
textures and compositions at the top, throughout the length and at the 
bottom, as part of investigating the valley's history.

While the stereo imaging is being analyzed for drive-planning, the team 
plans to use the rover to examine the area immediately west of the crater 
rim at the top of the valley. "We expect to do a little walkabout just 
outside the crater before driving down Perseverance Valley," Golombek 

The mission has begun its 150th month since the early 2004 landing of 
Opportunity in the Meridiani Planum region of Mars. In the first three 
months, which were originally planned as the full length of the mission, 
it found evidence in rocks that acidic water flowed across parts of Mars 
and soaked the subsurface early in the planet's history.

For nearly half of the mission -- 69 months -- Opportunity has been exploring 
sites on and near the western rim of Endeavour Crater, where even older 
rocks are exposed. The crater spans about 14 miles (22 kilometers) in 
diameter. Opportunity arrived from the northwest at a point corresponding 
to about the 10 o'clock position on the circle if north is noon; Perseverance 
Valley slices west to east at approximately the 8 o'clock position.

Opportunity hustled southward to reach the crown of the valley in recent 
weeks. In mid-April it finished about two-and-a-half years on a rim segment 
called "Cape Tribulation." In seven drives between then and arriving at 
the destination on May 4, it covered 377 yards (345 meters), bringing 
the mission's total odometry to about 27.8 miles (44.7 kilometers).

Opportunity and the next-generation Mars rover, Curiosity, as well as 
three active NASA Mars orbiters and surface missions to launch in 2018 
and 2020 are all part of ambitious robotic exploration to understand Mars, 
which helps lead the way for sending humans to Mars in the 2030s. JPL, 
a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, built Opportunity and manages 
the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. For more 
information about Opportunity, visit:



News Media Contact
Guy Webster / Andrew Good
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
818-354-6278 / 818-393-2433
guy.webster at jpl.nasa.gov / andrew.c.good at jpl.nasa.gov

Laurie Cantillo / Dwayne Brown
NASA Headquarters, Washington
202-358-1077 / 202-358-1726
laura.l.cantillo at nasa.gov / dwayne.c.brown at nasa.gov

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