Opportunity rover has spent 5,000 Martian days on the Red Planet
NASA’s Opportunity rover, which landed on Mars on Jan. 25, 2004, on a 90-sol (one sol equals one Martian day) mission, just marked its 5,000th sol roving and studying the Red Planet.
Powered by solar panels, the rover acts as a field geologist on the Martian surface and is currently exploring a region known as Perseverance Valley on the western slope of Endeavor Crater, which it reached in 2011.
Martian sols are approximately 40 minutes longer than your typical Earth day. One Martian year equals approximately two Earth years.
Opportunity‘s initial mission was set at 90 sols because NASA believed the solar-powered rover could not survive a Martian winter. In that, Perseverance Valley, is an aptly-named location for the robot geologist to reside – considering how long it has spent on the Martian surface.
The rover has now endured and functioned through eight Martian winters and witnessed its 5,000th sunrise on Saturday, February 17.
Opportunity has traversed slightly more than 28 miles (45 km) from its landing site in Meridiani Planum, an area with mineral deposits that indicate a wet history. The rover has since traveled to its present location on Endeavor Crater‘s western slope, about one-third of the distance down Perseverance Valley, a shallow channel cut from the crest of the rim on the floor of the crater.
“Five thousand sols after the start of our 90-sol mission, this amazing rover is still showing us surprises on Mars,” noted Project Manager John Callas of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) via an agency-issued release.
About the size of a golf cart, Opportunity discovered evidence that ancient Mars held groundwater and surface water during the rover’s first few months of exploration. Traveling over time to progressively larger craters, the rover has since peered ever further back into the Red Planet’s history.
Its current exploration focuses on uncovering the formation processes of Perseverance Valley.
“We’ve reached lots of milestones, and this is one more, but more important than the numbers are the exploration and the scientific discoveries,” Callas emphasized.
Opportunity and her twin rover, Spirit, landed on opposite sides of the Red Planet in 2004. Spirit also exceeded the planned 90-sol mission, operating for 2,200 sols and traveling 4.8 miles (7.7 km) before getting stuck in sand. Its last communication with NASA was in March of 2012
During its 5,000 sols, Opportunity has captured and sent back about 225,000 images, all of which have been published online.
Laurel Kornfeld is an amateur astronomer and freelance writer from Highland Park, NJ, who enjoys writing about astronomy and planetary science. She studied journalism at Douglass College, Rutgers University, and earned a Graduate Certificate of Science from Swinburne University’s Astronomy Online program. Her writings have been published online in The Atlantic, Astronomy magazine’s guest blog section, the UK Space Conference, the 2009 IAU General Assembly newspaper, The Space Reporter, and newsletters of various astronomy clubs. She is a member of the Cranford, NJ-based Amateur Astronomers, Inc. Especially interested in the outer solar system, Laurel gave a brief presentation at the 2008 Great Planet Debate held at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, MD.