Opportunity Mars rover leaves ‘Tribulation’ for ‘Perseverance’
NASA’s Opportunity Mars rover is leaving “Cape Tribulation” – the crater-rim segment it has investigated since late 2014 – and driving south toward its next destination, “Perseverance Valley”. The rover team plans to explore the valley to determine what type of activity carved it billions of years ago: water, wind, or flowing debris carried by water.
“The degree of erosion at Rocheport is fascinating,” said Opportunity Deputy Principal Investigator Ray Arvidson, of Washington University in St. Louis. “Grooves run perpendicular to the crest line. They may have been carved by water or ice or wind. We want to see as many features like this on the way to Perseverance Valley as we can, for comparison with what we find there.”
Perseverance Valley is about the length of two football fields and cuts downward west to east across the western rim on Endeavour Crater. The crater is about 14 miles (22 kilometers) in diameter, with a segmented rim that exposes some of the oldest rocked ever studied in place on Mars. Opportunity has less than four football fields’ distance of driving to reach the top of the valley after departing Cape Tribulation, a raised segment 3 miles (5 kilometers) long on the western rim of Endeavour Crater.
Since reaching the crater, Opportunity has explored “Cape York”, “Solander Point”, and “Murray Ridge” prior to reaching Cape Tribulation about 30 months ago. The next raised segment to the south, known as “Cape Byron”, contains Perseverance Valley and is separated by a gap of flatter ground.
Cape Tribulation has been the site many significant events in the mission. It was there in 2015 that Opportunity surpassed a marathon distance of total driving since leaving its landing site in 2004. It also climbed to the highest-elevation viewpoint it has reached on Endeavour’s rim. In a region of Tribulation called “Marathon Valley”, the rover examined outcrops containing clay minerals that had been detected from orbit.
“From the Cape Tribulation departure point, we’ll make a beeline to the head of Perseverance Valley, then turn left and drive down the full length of the valley, if we can,” Arvidson said. “It’s what you would do if you were an astronaut arriving at a feature like this: Start at the top, looking at the source material, then proceed down the valley, looking at deposits along the way and at the bottom.”
The arrangement of different sizes of rocks in the deposits could provide clues to how the valley was carved.
“If it was a debris flow, initiated by a little water, with lots of rocks moving downhill, it should be a jumbled mess. If it was a river cutting a channel, we may see gravel bars, crossbedding, and what’s called a ‘fining upward’ pattern of sediments, with coarsest rocks at the bottom,” said Arvidson.
Opportunity remains surprisingly capable of continued exploration 13 years into a mission scheduled to last three months on Mars. Since the start of 2017, the rover has driven about four-tenths of a mile (two-thirds of a kilometer), bringing the total distance traveled to 27.6 miles (44.4 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.