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Loyal NASA rover Opportunity enters 9th year of Mars boffinry

Plucky robot to sniff Endeavour's rim

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NASA’s exploration rover Opportunity entered its historic ninth year of service on Mars today, having already driven over 21 miles and helped boffins make groundbreaking scientific discoveries on the unforgiving world.

The roving robot touched down in Eagle Crater on the Red Planet on 25 January 2004, three weeks after its twin Spirit, which NASA lost contact with in 2010.

Opportunity got off to a cracking start: it found evidence of a “wet environment” and completed its three-month mission as originally planned, but the plucky bot wasn’t done there.

In 2008, Opportunity set course for the 14-mile-wide Endeavour Crater, an area of Mars rich in geological deposits from a much earlier period than anything it had come across before.

Three years later it finally arrived at the site and struck gold almost straightaway, with the discovery of a hydrated calcium sulfate vein that provided the clearest proof yet that water once flowed on Mars.

Opportunity is now taking a breather for its fifth Martian winter, sitting on the sun-facing outcrop of Greeley Haven which will allow its dust laden solar panels to suck up enough Sun juice to keep it active.

The rover will stay there until mid-2012, said NASA, gathering data on iron-containing minerals, monitoring wind changes at various scales and trying to work out whether the interior of the planet is molten.

Opportunity’s next perilous-sounding trip in mid-2012 will be to seek out clay along the edge of Martian crater Endeavour. ®

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