Opportunity rover gets bored of spot it's explored since 2014
NASA moving to 'Perseverance Valley' where we can see Martian erosion in action
The thirteen year-old Opportunity rover is moving on from the region of Mars it's been exploring since 2014.
Opportunity has spent the last 30 months at “Cape Tribulation”, a spot near the rim of the Endeavour Crater. The Cape's yielded all sorts of insights from finds like an outcrop of clay-like minerals and some interesting erosion patterns. It's also been the high point, in terms of altitude, during the rover's wanderings.
NASA now wants to see how things change from up on high to down low, so will send Opportunity down a feature called “Perseverance Valley”. Doing so will give us the chance to guess at whether it was carved by wind – in which case we'll see a chaotic collection of large rocks – or if liquid was involved. The latter would have produced gravel and finer sediments.
“Opportunity has less than four football fields' distance of driving [436 metres] to reach the top of the valley,” NASA says. The valley itself is “about two football fields long [218 metres].”
It'll take a while to get there: Opportunity has travelled 44.4km during its entire stay on Mars (map of journey here) and just 98 metres in five drives this April. But NASA's thrilled the machine still moves at all as it was expected to run for just three months.
The old probe ain't what he/she/it used to be, though. Its flash memory is now fried so if it doesn't upload images ASAP, its observations are wasted. But NASA's optimistic things will go because Martian dust storm season has passed, taking with it the threat that Opportunity's solar panels won't be able to power the rover. ®