Mars Rover’s ‘Drone Eyes’ Spot Distant Impact Crater


NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity has captured a new view of the rim of Endeavour crater, the rover’s destination in a multi-year traverse along the rock-strewn desert landscape. A portion of the rim about 13 kilometers (8 miles) away appears on the horizon at the left edge of this haunting image, along with the rim of an even more distant crater on the right.

Endeavour is 21 kilometers (13 miles) in diameter, is about 25 times wider than Victoria crater, the last major crater Opportunity visited. Opportunity began a marathon from Victoria to Endeavor in September 2008 after spending two years exploring Victoria.

The golf-cart-sized robot with a wobbly front wheel climbed out of Victoria crater and scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California are steering the probe toward a crater more than 20 times larger, dubbed Endeavor. With the rover able to travel only 110 yards per day, the mission control team at JPL said it could take two years for Opportunity to reach its destination. There is no guarantee the vehicle will survive the trip.

Opportunity, like its twin rover Spirit, semi-idle for the moment on the opposite side of Mars, is well past its original three-month life expectancy. The seven-mile stretch between Victoria and Endeavor craters matches the total distance the rover already has covered in the four-and-a-half years since landing on the planet.

‘We may not get there but it is scientifically the right direction to go anyway,’ said Steve Squyres of Cornell University, the principal science investigator for the project. ‘This crater (Endeavor) is staggeringly large compared to anything we’ve seen before.’

The two rovers arrived on Mars in January 2004 to begin an ambitious geologic expedition aimed at finding signs of water, and by extension determining whether the planet was ever sufficiently moist to support life.
The probes are equipped with a range of sophisticated laboratory equipment and cameras to explore rocks and soil on the Martian surface.

Scientists are eager to get a glimpse into Endeavor, a bowl measuring 13.7 miles across, where they expect to find a much deeper stack of rock layers than those at Victoria.

‘But even if we never get there, as we move southward we expect to be getting to younger and younger layers of rock on the surface,’ Squyres said.

NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity used its panoramic camera (Pancam) to capture this view of the rim of Endeavor crater, the rover’s destination in a multi-year traverse along the desert Martian landscape.


Casey Kazan via JPL/NASA

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell University


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