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Stuart AtkinsonMay 14, 2012

Opportunity is a ROVER again!

Oppy has driven away from Greeley Haven!

After driving off Greeley Haven – where she stood patiently for 19 long weeks – Opportunity is now driving again. Not just turning, not just bumping, but driving. She’s driven away from Greeley Haven, heading a short distance downhill, towards a small patch of wind-blown dust which has caught the rover team’s eye.

After months of pretending to be a Mars lander, Opportunity is a Mars rover again. :-)

Before heading away from Greeley Opportunity took time to record a few last farewell images of the rocks on and embedded in the flat-topped ridge which has been her home all these past months…

Then, as I said, Opportunity made a quick turn to realign herself for her proper departure from the summit of Cape York…

And now, it seems, she’s well and truly put Greeley Haven behind her, and is heading downhill, going north again, making her way down to a small field of dust dunes, seen here on the right…

Here’s a 3D view of those dunes…

What’s the attraction of those dust dunes? Here’s an excerpt from a press release put out by JPL on May 9, after Oppy had moved away from Greeley Haven…

Our next goal is a few meters farther north on Cape York, at a bright-looking patch of what may be dust,” said Opportunity science-team member Matt Golombek of JPL. “We haven’t been able to see much dust in Meridiani. This could be a chance to learn more about it.”

I have to be honest here and admit that I laughed outloud when I read that. ‘Haven’t been able to see much dust’????? This is the rover which got stuck IN dust for weeks, and was almost killed BY a dust storm which hid the Sun in the sky! Poor Oppy has been COVERED in the ****** stuff for ages!!!

I’m joking, of course, I know what they mean by that; Oppy’s focus has been on rocks – outcrops and single stones and boulders – and meteorites too, she hasn’t actually studied much dust on the ground. This will be a good – ahem – opportunity for her to do so. Here’s a “true colour” image of the dust dunes, from the official MER PANCAM site – this is what you’d see if you were walking right there beside Oppy as she drives towards them…

So, Oppy is roving again, and personally (as you’ve probably guessed!) I’m delighted. Again, I know, I know, the park-over at Greeley was essential, and the MER team used it to do some fascinating science I’m sure, but the rovers were designed, and built, to ROVE and Oppy standing still for so long in the same place just felt wrong to me. When I woke up yesterday and saw those first pictures of the “bump” away from Greeley Haven I couldn’t stop grinning. It felt exciting to know that Oppy is on the move again, that soon she’ll be seeing new things, going to new places, making new discoveries. I just couldn’t shake off the image of a ship pulling away from a harbour, edging away from the dockside, slowly, laboriously, but hearing the sea calling to her as the waves thrashed beneath and around her. Beautiful, just beautiful. I mean, ok, the view from Greeley Haven has been wonderful… those faraway, farside, crater-spattered eastern hills, the fascinating rocks at her feet, the peaks of Tribulation to the south, calling to Oppy, and us, like mermaids singing on rocks… but enough was enough. It was definitely time to go.

So, here’s the bigger picture – and this is just a rough guide, not claiming it’s 10000% accurate, ok?

…and what next? Perhaps something along these lines…

So. Oppy has pulled away from the dockside, blown her horn, and with the icy martian wind in her sails is now heading towards the far horizon again, in search of more rugged rocks, more veins of glittering gypsum, and those all-important clays.

Go get ‘em girl.

Visit my Road to Endeavour blog for the latest on Opportunity's new travels!

Read more: Opportunity, mission status, Mars Exploration Rovers

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Stuart Atkinson

space enthusiast and amateur astronomer
Read more articles by Stuart Atkinson

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