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.
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 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.
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.
Opportunity stood down for nine days in early August as Curiosity landed and went through check-out, but on the tenth day the Mars Exploration Rover was back on the road, driving along the northwestern rim of Endeavour Crater and into the "sweet spot" of the clay mineral hunting ground at Cape York.
On reconnaissance of Matijevic Hill, Opportunity has driven right into another Martian mystery, compete with new kinds of “berries," tiny white veins running through two distinctive outcrops of rock, and orbital data indicating that somewhere here clay minerals are hiding, all of which has put the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) mission back in the science spotlight and made for another September to remember at Meridiani Planum.
After spending much of October driving around and taking pictures on Matijevic Hill, Opportunity hunkered down for Halloween and spent the holiday quietly, staying out of mischief's way and the Mars Exploration Rovers (MER) mission roved another month closer to its ninth anniversary of working on the surface of the Red Planet.
While Curiosity and her team found themselves entangled in a media furor over comments, assumptions, and rumors of findings that have yet to be found, Opportunity roved on in November, finishing up the geologic survey of Matijevic Hill and setting a new mileage record along the way.
Despite the lull of the holidays, the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) mission recorded one of the expedition's best months ever in December as Opportunity and her team confirmed the location of the smectite clay minerals on Matijevic Hill, effectively grabbing the scientific brass ring they came hoping to find at Endeavour Crater.
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