[meteorite-list] Opportunity Mars Rover Goes Six-Wheeling up a Ridge

From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Thu, 25 Feb 2016 14:34:52 -0800 (PST)
Message-ID: <201602252234.u1PMYqBO003408_at_zagami.jpl.nasa.gov>


Opportunity Mars Rover Goes Six-Wheeling up a Ridge
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
February 25, 2016

NASA's senior Mars rover, Opportunity, is working adeptly in some of the
most challenging terrain of the vehicle's 12 years on Mars, on a slope
of about 30 degrees.

Researchers are using Opportunity this month to examine rocks that may
have been chemically altered by water billions of years ago. The mission's
current targets of investigation are from ruddy-tinted swaths the researchers
call "red zones," in contrast to tan bedrock around these zones.

The targets lie on "Knudsen Ridge," atop the southern flank of "Marathon
Valley," which slices through the western rim of Endeavour Crater.

A panorama of Knudsen Ridge is online at:


"We're hoping to take advantage of the steep topography that Mars provides
us at Knudsen Ridge to get to a better example of the red zone material,"
said Steve Squyres of Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, principal
investigator for the mission.

The red zone material crumbles easily. At locations in Marathon Valley
where Opportunity already got a close look at it, the reddish bits are
blended with other loose material accumulating in low locations. A purer
exposure of the red zone material, such as some apparent on the ridge,
would provide a better target for the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer
on Opportunity's arm, which reveals the chemical composition of rocks
and soil.

Opportunity began climbing Knudsen Ridge in late January with two drives
totaling 31 feet (9.4 meters). The wheels slipped less than 20 percent
up slopes as steep as 30 degrees, the steepest the rover has driven since
its first year on Mars in 2004. The slip is calculated by comparing the
distance the rotating wheels would have covered if there were no slippage
to the distance actually covered in the drive, based on "visual odometry"
imaging of the terrain the rover passes as it drives.

"Opportunity showed us how sure-footed she still is," said Mars Exploration
Rover Project Manager John Callas at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory,
Pasadena, California. "The wheel slip has been much less than we expected
on such steep slopes."

The rover made additional progress toward targets of red-zone material
on Knudsen Ridge with a drive on Feb. 18.

Knudsen Ridge forms a dramatic cap overlooking the 14-mile-wide (22-kilometer-wide)
Endeavour Crater. Its informal naming honors the memory of Danish astrophysicist
and planetary scientist Jens Martin Knudsen (1930-2005), a founding member
of the science team for Opportunity and the twin rover Spirit. "This ridge
is so spectacular, it seemed like an appropriate place to name for Jens
Martin," Squyres said.

Marathon Valley became a high-priority destination for the Opportunity
mission when mineral-mapping observations by the Compact Reconnaissance
Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM), aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance
Orbiter, located clay minerals (a type of phyllosilicate) in this valley.
Clay minerals often form in the presence of water, which is why this is
such a promising area of exploration. Opportunity found evidence of ancient
water shortly after landing, but there were signs that the water would
have been more highly acidic. The investigation in Marathon Valley could
add understanding about the ancient environmental context for the presence
of non-acidic water, a factor favorable for microbial life, if any has
ever existed on Mars.

"The locations of red zones in Marathon Valley correlate closely with
the phyllosilicate signature we see from orbit," Squyres said. "That alone
is not a smoking gun. We want to determine what it is about their chemistry
that sets them apart and what it could have to do with water."

To test the idea that water affected the red zone material, the experiment
underway aims to compare the chemistry of that material to the chemistry
of the surrounding tan bedrock, which could represent an unaltered baseline.
Opportunity used its diamond-toothed rock abrasion tool last month to
scrape the crust off a tan bedrock target for an examination of the chemistry
inside the rock.

The team is accomplishing productive science with Opportunity while avoiding
use of the rover's flash memory, which was linked to several unplanned
computer reboots last year. The only data being received from Opportunity
is what can be transmitted each day before the solar-powered rover shuts
down for energy-conserving overnight "sleep."

For more information about Opportunity, visit:



Media Contact

Guy Webster
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
guy.webster at jpl.nasa.gov

Dwayne Brown / Laurie Cantillo
NASA Headquarters, Washington
202-358-1726 / 202-358-1077
dwayne.c.brown at nasa.gov / laura.l.cantillo at nasa.gov

Received on Thu 25 Feb 2016 05:34:52 PM PST

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