NASA’s Opportunity Mars rover begins study of ‘Perseverance Valley’
NASA’s Opportunity Mars rover has reached the main objective of its current two-year extended mission – an ancient fluid-carved valley on the western rim of Endeavour Crater. As Opportunity approached the upper end of “Perseverance Valley”, the rover’s cameras began capturing images of the area at a greater resolution than what can be taken by spacecraft orbiting 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 in Pasadena, California.
Scientists have yet to identify the process that carved Perseverance Valley into the rim of Endeavour Crater billions of years ago. The possibilities include flowing water, a debris flow in which a small amount of water lubricated a mix of mud and boulders, or a process that didn’t include water at all, such as wind erosion. Assessing which possibility is best supported by evidence still in place is the mission’s primary objective at this location.
The upper end of the valley is at a broad notch in the crest of the crater rim. Opportunity will begin its study of the area by taking sets of images from two widely separated locations at that dip in the rim. This long-baseline imaging will enable researchers to perform a detailed 3-D analysis of the area.
“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.
Because reversing course back uphill when partway down could be difficult, the team will need to find a path with minimum obstacles to drive Opportunity safely through the whole valley. The team plans to use the rover to examine to examine textures and compositions. While the stereo imaging is being analyzed, researchers plan to use the rover to study the area 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 said.
The mission has begun its 150th month since Opportunity landed in the Meridiani Planum region of Mars in early 2004. For 69 months, nearly half of the mission, Opportunity has been studying sites on and near the western rim of Endeavour Crater.
In mid-April, the rover finished about two-and-a-half years on a rim segment called “Cape Tribulation“. In seven drives between then and arriving at Perseverance Valley, the rover covered 377 yards (345 meters), bringing the mission’s total distance covered to about 27.8 miles (44.7 kilometers).
Jim Sharkey is a lab assistant, writer and general science enthusiast who grew up in Enid, Oklahoma, the hometown of Skylab and Shuttle astronaut Owen K. Garriott. As a young Star Trek fan he participated in the letter-writing campaign which resulted in the space shuttle prototype being named Enterprise. While his academic studies have ranged from psychology and archaeology to biology, he has never lost his passion for space exploration. Jim began blogging about science, science fiction and futurism in 2004. Jim resides in the San Francisco Bay area and has attended NASA Socials for the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover landing and the NASA LADEE lunar orbiter launch.