Mars Rover Reaches New Crater Site
A nearly three year long journey has led the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity to the Endeavour crater on Mars where it will now begin collecting data and samples of rocks never before seen.
The rover, which is only about as big as a golf cart, reached Spirit Point on the rim of the crater on August 9th. The rover drove about 13 miles to the current location after leaving another crater it was exploring. The data gathered by the rover will be used to understand the mineral and chemical composition of Mars’ surface and rocks. This will help NASA and other space administrations plan manned missions to the Red Planet.
The Endeavour crater measures approximately 14 miles across at its widest point. This is 25 times the size of the Victoria crater that the Opportunity rover was previously exploring. NASA scientists moved the rover because the new crater is expected to hold rocks from a much earlier period in Mars’ history. Data collected from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter showed the possibility of clay based minerals in the Endeavour crater. This may indicate a period of high moisture and heat on the planet in the distant past.
The rover has been exploring Mars since its launch in the middle of 2003 and has spent 7 years on the planet’s surface. It is now doing some of the work of the Spirit rover that stopped responding in early 2010. It works in conjunction with the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to explore the possibilities of water on Mars. It’s still unclear if the hot and wet conditions that were part of the planet’s past were around long enough to support life, but some evidence does point to the existence of microbes at one point.