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Stuart Atkinson

Outcrop Ahead for Opportunity!

Posted by Stuart Atkinson

07-09-2012 13:12 CDT

Topics: pretty pictures, Opportunity, amateur image processing, mission status, Mars Exploration Rovers, Mars

Editor's note: The content of this blog entry originally appeared at Atkinson's Road to Endeavour Blog. I thank Stu for his help in chronicling the exciting adventures of a now underappreciated rover! --ESL

Oppy is opening an exciting new chapter in her adventure at Cape York. Having driven down to, over and past Whim Creek, on sol 3040 (August 12) she headed down the eastern flank of the Cape, roving from crater to crater. Up ahead is something very, very interesting -- possibly the most promising outcrop of ancient rock Opportunity has seen since reaching the Cape...

Here’s a colourisation I’ve made of it, as seen on sol 3043 (August 15):

Why might this outcrop be so important? Well, Oppy was steered towards Cape York in the first place because deposits of phyllosilicates – clays – had ben detected on its slopes from orbit. And it’s in outcrops of rock like this that Oppy has a good chance of detecting those clays.

While the world’s new crop of Mars maniacs and space enthusiasts celebrated the historic First Drive of the Mars Science Laboratory "Curiosity" in Gale Crater, halfway around Mars the Mars Exploration Rover "Opportunity" continued to do what she does best – drive on, and on, and on...

By sol 3049 she had made it almost half way back to the southern end of the Cape, where she made landfall over a year ago..

She fairly raced (in rover terms!) across beautifully flat terrain, heading down the side of Cape York...

... hunting for those all-important clay minerals. Finding those deposits is a big part of Curiosity’s mission too, so maybe Oppy is determined to find them before her newly-arrived big sister...!

Remember how Oppy was recently looking for more of those Homestake-like gypsum veins? Well, it looked like she found one...

But she passed right on by. As she roved she enjoyed a great view of the ridge that runs along the top of Cape York like a dinosaur’s spine, the "Shoemaker Ridge"... click on the next image to enlarge it...

And up ahead of her, a new view of the next hill south of Cape York, Cape Tribulation, which is in Oppy’s sights now...

She paused to pay some attention to an area of rocky plates on the edge of the Cape...

The Sun was close to setting on sol 3053 (August 25) when Oppy took these images, and on one of them there was a beautiful view of the rover’s own – now familiar – shadow being cast on the rough ground beside her...

But I know what you really want – 3D right? Ok here you go...

And here’s a very striking view of that setting Sun, as seen by Oppy’s hazard cameras...

On sol 3056 (August 28) Oppy's wheel tracks suggested she'd begun climbing back up the sloping flank of Cape York towards a ridge, or an area of several ridges.

And what was our intrepid explorer geologist heading towards now..? This...

Almost ignored by the media and all but the most faithful MER fans, with that short uphill drive, Opportunity passed the 35-kilometre mark (read that again, 35 KILOMETRES!!!!!) on her epic trek across the Red Planet. She passed the mark as she headed uphill towards this fascinating outcrop of rocks which jutted up out of the surface like half-excavated dinosaur bones.

And before anyone dashes off to Tweet or blog about me saying fossils have been discovered on Mars, THEY’RE NOT DINOSAUR BONES, they just LOOK LIKE THEM, ok? :-)

Each view of the ridge was more promising than the last...

The most interesting feature there is mid-left, that very lumpy-looking ridge of dark rock silhouetted against the brighter slope. In 3D it really stood out...

By sol 3060 (September 1) Oppy had driven closer to that can almost hear the geologists drooling, can’t you..?

You only really get a hint of how fascinating this ridge could be when you see it in 3D, and the various fins, spines and blocks jump out at you... click on this next image and just spend some time wandering around it, you’ll be amazed by the variety of shapes and structures here...

I really, really wish I was a geologist so that I could have a clue what was going on there...!

But obviously none of the above images show what this ridge actually looks like, you need a colour image to show you that. Here you go...

It got better...

Opportunity parked up at that fascinating-looking outcrop with the big fin on its top on sol 3064 (September 6), and sent back just beautiful images of it. Here’s a new colourisation I made of part of it... very pleased with the colours on this one, I think I’ve got it just about right...

On sol 3064 we received the first images of the outcrop’s surface as seen by the rover’s Microscopic Imager, and they were pretty spectacular. Here’s one of them, naked and raw, just as it was when it landed from Mars...

Now, some of these "MI" images can be stitched together to make larger mosaics. And with a little bit of "work" (boosting contrast, sharpening, etc) they really do turn into something quite lovely... see what you think (click to enlarge, as usual)...

I wonder how long it will be before someone declares these pictures show the fossilised remains of shellfish, or more of the infamous "crinoids" Opportunity saw once before, long, long ago..? Those structures you see on the rock aren’t fossils, the’re perfectly natural geological formations, "concretions" that have either snapped off or eroded away (if I remember correctly, if I haven’t feel free to correct me!) So, no, these pictures DO NOT SHOW FOSSILS, ok? They show instead what a magnificent, epic planet Mars is, both in wide-angle and zoom-in views! :-)

See other posts from September 2012


Or read more blog entries about: pretty pictures, Opportunity, amateur image processing, mission status, Mars Exploration Rovers, Mars


fthurber: 09/08/2012 11:48 CDT

Thanks for posting blog. Opportunity has been seeing some very interesting geology. About the first picture: Any follow up on this possible clay outcrop photographed on sol 3043 (August 15)?

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