I know it’s been all Curiosity, all the time on this blog for the last couple of weeks, and that’s not likely to change much for the next couple of weeks. But I don’t want people to forget that there’s another rover exploring Mars’ ancient geology. Opportunity has been taking spectacular photos of Whim Creek and Endeavour Crater this last week.
Even robots deserve a break once in a while, and when the Mars Odyssey orbiter went into safe mode in June, Opportunity got the chance to hang out and leisurely take in her surroundings at the Red Planet, while the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) mission downshifted into lower gear.
Earlier today, unnoticed by the vast majority of the world, Opportunity reached and then silently passed a major milestone in her great adventure on Mars. At just before 3am, UK time, Opportunity began her 3000th sol, or martian day, on Mars.
Since you last visited, Opportunity has continued to drive downhill – well, what passes for ‘downhill’ on Cape York! – and is now not far at all from the northern edge of the Cape. From where she is now she sees the Meridiani desert stretching away to the north and west, the eastern hills on her right, and the Cape itself behind her. And around her? lots and lots of Homestake-like gypsum veins.
As winter began to retreat in the southern hemisphere of the Red Planet, Opportunity was commanded to finish up her science assignments in April in preparation for leaving its refuge, and the Mars Exploration Rover mission rolled through its 100th month of exploration.
A. J. S. Rayl has just posted her monthly update on the goings-on at Meridiani planum, noting that the update recaps the 99th month of the Mars Exploration Rover mission. There's a lot of detail on how the radio-tracking campaign is going. While she's not driving, Opportunity's acting like a lander, with radio antennas on Earth performing Doppler tracking to allow very fine measurement of Mars' orbital motion.
March came in like a lion and went out like a lamb at Meridiani Planum, Mars: Opportunity felt the cold wind on her solar panels, then "settled" in a little more, working through the depths of its fifth Martian winter, as the team honored one of its own up there, and the Mars Exploration Rover mission logged month number 99 of exploration.
As Opportunity worked away on its winter science campaign, the Mars Exploration Rover mission quietly completed its eighth Earth year of exploring the surface of the Red Planet last week, and is now roving on into Year 9 of its 90-day mission.
Today Opportunity sent back to Earth the last few frames of the "deck pan" self-portrait she took during the waning days of 2011. Her solar panels are very dusty, which isn't helpful. It's near winter solstice in her southern location on Mars, so the angled Sun is not providing as much power as it would in a different season.
As New Year's Eve moved from time zone to time zone across planet Earth, the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) team looked to 2012 and wrapping its eighth Earth year of exploring, while up on the Red Planet Opportunity settled into the "saddle" at Greeley Haven preparing for the onslaught of its fifth Martian winter.