Opportunity wrapped a landmark year in December, sending home more evidence of ancient habitable environments at Endeavour Crater as the Mars Exploration Rovers (MER) mission geared up to celebrate an historic milestone – the completion of 10 years of surface operations on the Red Planet.
With the New Year upon us, what can we look forward to in 2014? For me, the main event of 2014 is that ESA's Rosetta mission finally -- finally! -- catches up to the comet it has been chasing for a decade. We will lose LADEE, gain two Mars orbiters, and launch Hayabusa2. The year begins with an amazing 24 spacecraft exploring or cruising toward various planetary destinations.
When Spirit and Opportunity landed in 2004, I was with the science team in charge of a group of high-school students called the Red Rover Goes to Mars Student Astronauts. We're coming up on the 10th anniversary of the landings -- what have those "kids" grown up into?
I'm returning to the deep dive into the literature that began with articles about lunar basins and then explored the geologic time scales of Earth, Moon, and Mars. Now it's time to catch up to the last decade of Mars research and learn what "phyllosian", "theiikian", and "siderikian" eras are.
Although winter took hold at Endeavour Crater in November, Opportunity pressed on, climbing up Murray Ridge and driving into a clay mineral hunting ground as the Mars Exploration Rovers mission cruised another month closer to celebrating its 10th Earth year of surface operations with myriad events throughout January 2014.
On sol 3485 Opportunity pulled up next to a large outcrop here on the rim of Endeavour crater. The outcrop appears to be impact breccias like those we saw a few sols ago lower down on the ridge. But the texture of the rocks is somewhat different.
As fall began to give way to winter at Endeavour Crater, Opportunity cruised deeper into her campsite on the western side of Solander Point in October, heading for a site that may contain clay minerals and the rover's next big discovery, and the Mars Exploration Rovers mission trekked another month closer to its 10th anniversary in January 2014.
The Mars Exploration Rover (MER) mission stepped up preparations for the coming Martian winter in September as Opportunity rounded the northern tip of Solander Point and drove into what will be her campground at Endeavour Crater for the next six months or so. It's been nearly a year in the planning. Now, from the rover's first look around, this winter could turn out to be one for the books.
On sol 3425 Opportunity "waded ashore" at Solander Point after crossing a sea of sand between here and Cape York. Cape York was an "island" remnant of the rim of Endeavour crater that Opportunity left back in May. Since then it has been driving south to the next largest and mountainous remnant of the crater rim, Solander Point.
There wasn't a dull moment for the Mars Exploration Rover mission in August as Opportunity drove up to the base of the Solander Point section Endeavour Crater's eroded rim, crossed over a geological boundary between ancient eras, maneuvered through a boulder field, scooting unscathed from a near-miss with a rock that could have ended it all, and at month's end delivered her team to what looks to be another scientific gemstone on the Red Planet.
The Mars Exploration Rovers (MER) mission Opportunity celebrated the 10th anniversary of its launch on July 7, 2003, and then went on to complete the last leg of its 2 km trek from Cape York to Solander Point. But just before the robot field geologist pulled onto the actual base of the ridge where it will spend its sixth Martian winter, Mars lured the team off the path with some of the weirdest Martian rocks the scientists have seen yet.
They're too far apart to have a party, but today Curiosity and Opportunity could have rung in the New Mars Year. Today Mars reached a solar longitude of zero degrees and the Sun crossed Mars' equator, heralding the arrival of spring in the northern hemisphere and autumn in the southern hemisphere.