Martian Winds Give Opportunity Rover Big Power Boost Atop Red Planet Mountain Science Goldmine

NASA’s Opportunity rover was imaged here from Mars orbit by the MRO HiRISE camera on Feb. 14, 2014. This mosaic shows Opportunity’s view while looking back to vast Endeavour crater from atop Murray Ridge by summit of Solander Point. Opportunity captured this photomosaic view on Feb. 16, 2014 (Sol 3579) from the western rim of Endeavour Crater where she is investigating outcrops of potential clay minerals formed in liquid water. Assembled from Sol 3579 colorized navcam raw images. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer-kenkremer.com

NASA’s Opportunity rover was imaged here from Mars orbit by the MRO HiRISE camera on Feb. 14, 2014. This mosaic shows Opportunity’s view while looking back to vast Endeavour crater from atop Murray Ridge by summit of Solander Point. Opportunity captured this photomosaic view on Feb. 16, 2014, (Sol 3579) from the western rim of Endeavour Crater, where she is investigating outcrops of potential clay minerals formed in liquid water. Assembled from Sol 3579 colorized navcam raw images. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer-kenkremer.com

A series of Martian wind events over the past few months has given NASA’s long-lived Opportunity rover a big power boost during its current explorations atop a Red Planet mountain that’s a scientific goldmine.

Altogether, Opportunity has received about a 70-percent boost in power since early January, due to a combination of multiple wind-cleaning events and the advent of spring and more daily hours of sunshine in Mars’ southern hemisphere.

The decade-old robot is exploring “Murray Ridge” on the north-facing slopes of Solander Point mountaintop that is loaded with caches of minerals, including phyllosilicate clay minerals that formed eons ago in flowing liquid neutral water conducive to life.

Murray Ridge and Solander Point lie at the western rim of a vast crater named Endeavour, which spans some 22 kilometers (14 miles) in diameter.

Last week, between Sols 3605 and 3606 (March 15 and March 16, 2014), the solar-powered robot experienced a 10-percent boost in electrical output from the arrays.

This comes on top of another wind-cleaning, 10-percent power boost the prior week.

This week, the solar array output shot up further and currently stands at 615 watt hours, compared to only 371 watt hours on Jan. 1, 2014 (Sol 3534).

More power means the rover can work for longer periods each Sol and conduct more science research.

Opportunity also captured a magnificent “selfie” with her hazcam camera on Sol 3609 (March 20, 2014).

Shadow Portrait of NASA Rover Opportunity on Martian Slope.  NASA's Mars Rover Opportunity caught its own silhouette in this late-afternoon image taken by the rover's rear hazard avoidance camera. This camera is mounted low on the rover and has a wide-angle lens. The image was taken looking eastward shortly before sunset on Sol 3609 (March 20, 2014).  Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Shadow portrait of NASA Rover Opportunity on Martian Slope. NASA’s Mars Rover Opportunity caught its own silhouette in this late-afternoon image taken by the rover’s rear hazard avoidance camera. This camera is mounted low on the rover and has a wide-angle lens. The image was taken looking eastward shortly before sunset on Sol 3609 (March 20, 2014). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The fisheye camera was looking eastward shortly before sunset and captured the rover’s shadow falling across a slope called the McClure-Beverlin Escarpment atop Solander Point on the western rim of Endeavour Crater.

Opportunity is extending her robotic arm in the general area dubbed “Cook Haven” to image rocks with the arms Microscopic Imager (MI) capture spectra with the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS).

The terrain atop the summit of Solander Point sometimes makes for difficult driving from spot to spot due to some tilted slopes and slippery sands.

Opportunity by Solander Point peak—2nd Mars Decade Starts here! NASA’s Opportunity rover captured this panoramic mosaic on Dec. 10, 2013 (Sol 3512) near the summit of “Solander Point” on the western rim of Endeavour Crater where she starts Decade 2 on the Red Planet. She is currently investigating outcrops of potential clay minerals formed in liquid water on her 1st mountain climbing adventure. Assembled from Sol 3512 navcam raw images. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer-kenkremer.com

Opportunity by Solander Point peak—2nd Mars Decade Starts here! NASA’s Opportunity rover captured this panoramic mosaic on Dec. 10, 2013, (Sol 3512) near the summit of “Solander Point” on the western rim of Endeavour Crater, where she starts Decade 2 on the Red Planet. She is currently investigating outcrops of potential clay minerals formed in liquid water on her first mountain climbing adventure. Assembled from Sol 3512 navcam raw images. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer-kenkremer.com

Several drives were interrupted when the rover sensed higher current in three of the six wheels.

Today, March 30, marks Opportunity’s 3619th Sol or Martian Day roving Mars. So far she has snapped over 190,200 amazing images.

She was expected to last a mere three months, with a “warranty” of 90 Martian days (Sols).

Together with her twin sister Spirit, the golf cart-sized robots proved that early Mars was warm and wet, billions of years ago—a key finding in the search for habitats conducive to life beyond Earth.

Her total odometry stands at over 24.10 miles (38.79 kilometers) since touchdown on Jan. 24, 2004, at Meridiani Planum.

Meanwhile, her younger sister Curiosity is trundling across the floor of Gale Crater rover toward towering Mount Sharp. Watch for my upcoming story.

So, Opportunity has managed to survive and thrive through her sixth utterly harsh Martian winter with flying colors, all the while continuing breakthrough science non-stop. What’s not clear is whether she’ll survive the utterly harsh fiscal environment in Washington, D.C.

Continuing cuts to NASA’s budget threaten Opportunity’s very survival even more so than the daily frigid arctic temperatures. Indeed funding may be cut off at the end of the current fiscal year.

Learn more at Ken’s upcoming presentations at the NEAF astro/space convention, N.Y., on April 12/13 and at Washington Crossing State Park, N.J., on April 6.

Ken Kremer

Traverse Map for NASA’s Opportunity rover from 2004 to 2014. This map shows the entire path the rover has driven during a decade on Mars and over 3560 Sols, or Martian days, since landing inside Eagle Crater on Jan 24, 2004 to current location by Solander Point summit at the western rim of Endeavour Crater. Rover will spend 6th winter here atop Solander. Opportunity discovered clay minerals at Esperance – indicative of a habitable zone. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/ASU/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Traverse map for NASA’s Opportunity rover from 2004 to 2014. This map shows the entire path the rover has driven during a decade on Mars and over 3560 Sols, or Martian days, since landing inside Eagle Crater on Jan 24, 2004, to current location by Solander Point summit at the western rim of Endeavour Crater. The rover will spend its sixth winter here atop Solander. Opportunity discovered clay minerals at Esperance—indicative of a habitable zone. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/ASU/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

 

 

 

 

 

6 comments to Martian Winds Give Opportunity Rover Big Power Boost Atop Red Planet Mountain Science Goldmine

  • Dean Robertson

    Maybe the next rover could include a feather duster or at least a blower of some kind?

  • Karol

    It is absolutely unbelievable that the Administration is actually even considering de-activating this invaluable source of planetary science. Such an inane, insane, brain-dead suggestion could only be the product of some bizarro-world psychotic chess gambit in the 2015 budget chess game. Right, let’s pull the plug on the Opportunity rover and use the money saved to send surface-to-air weapons to the rebels in Syria who “promise” they won’t hand them over to the Al-Quida fighters who are their dear allies to use against Americans. No doubt our only loyal ally Israel would love for us to hand such El Al airliner-dropping technology over to Syrian rebels. Yeah, turn off Opportunity so we can all climb aboard the crazy train.

  • Imagine – a “decade-old” Martian rover still performing an amazing scientific mission. And the government wants to cut funding? Rediculous, short-sighted pin-headed thinking.

  • Correction: “ridiculous”

    • Karol

      Tom, the essence of what you said was, as is always the case with you excellent posts, clearly understood and most certainly in no need of correction. I stand with you in complete agreement. When I’m writing while upset over something as serious as the possible loss of the Opportunity rover, my speling is usally the furst thing that sufers. 🙂

  • Tracy the Troll

    I think it is an excellent idea as then the MARS ONE group could just lease it from the government to scout locations and liquid water(we all know its there) for their start up Colony…Or some other group to look for Alien artifacts …what an entertainment show that would be! Those damn engineers at JPL…They just made the Rover to good, to strong and to robust…hahahah