While much of the Mars enthusiast community was still deep in mourning after the loss of Spirit, on the other side of Mars her sister rover, Opportunity, was driving like a thing posessed. Earlier today rover driver and unofficial MER Ambassador to the world, Scott Maxwell, Tweeted with incredible news: Oppy’s last drive had been 165m long…
But that wasn’t the most celebration-worthy piece of news. Oh no. At some point during the past couple of days, as Oppy rolled over an anonymous, unremarkable-looking ripple or dune of Meridiani dust, she passed the 30km mark, meaning she had driven 50 times further than her original mission called for her to.
Call me silly and sentimental, but I think that Spirit is rolling along beside Oppy, pushing her on, giving her strength.
So, Oppy is really making good progress towards Endeavour crater now. In fact, her latest drive left her just 3km away from Cape York, the small ‘island’ of rock jutting up out the Meridiani plain that will be her “landfall” when she reaches the crater’s ancient edge. We can’t see Cape York yet – it’s still beneath the horizon for Oppy – but we might, might, see it for the first time in another kilometre or so. But more of that later. For now, let’s see where Oppy is…
Oppy’s last drive took her another 165m closer to the rim of Endeavour, a remarkable drive. She’s now just 50m away from another interesting-looking crater, and we should have pictures of that tomorrow, so check back then.
But what lies up ahead for Oppy? What kind of “attractions” stand between her and Cape York now?
I’ve identified a few landscape features which *might* catch the MER team’s eye, so let’s look at those, always bearing in mind these are just my own “things I’d like to see up close” candidates and Oppy might roll on past any or all of them without a moment’s pause!
Oppy is now just half a kilometre away from a very interesting looking cluster of craters, marked, cunningly, as “crater cluster” on that pic above. If she tootles on over there. Oppy should get some great views of a landscape spattered with craters, and maybe some blocks of ejecta too.
0.7km further on lies a rather strange-looking feature, labelled “ripple field” above. This looks to me like the remains of a really old crater that’s been there so long its walls have eroded away leaving a pancake-like plate of harder, more erosion-resistant material sitting there on the plain. There are some big ripples in there, very interesting.
Now… another half kilometre onwards or so (roughly 1.5km from where Oppy is now) is what I estimate as being the first place on the journey where we might, possibly, perhaps, maybe, catch our very first glimpse of Cape York. In reality, I think that first glimpse may well have to wait until Oppy is just half a kilometre or so away from Cape York, but we’ll have to wait and see.
And then? The drive south to, and then around the base of, Cape York, then off we’ll go in search of those phyllosilicates!
All that’s ahead. Looking back into the very recent past it’s good to celebrate Oppy passing a historic milestone (well, kilometre stone!) on her epic trek – she’s now driven over 30km across the surface of Mars since landing, all those years ago. Isn’t that incredible?! As stated before, she’s now got just 3km to go before she reaches the rim of Endeavour, a crater that was once, not that long ago, considered insanely too far away for our brave gal to reach. But it’s looking pretty good sio far – just don’t uncross your fingers just yet…
Finally, and apologies for going a little off-topic, but I thought it was very fitting that as Oppy was racing towards Endeavour, back here on Earth Oppy’s Big Sister, “Curiosity”, was conpleting her final “Terran Drive” at JPL’s cavernous clean room before she heads for Mars. Here’s a screengrab of the live, streaming TV footage of the event…
Wow… looking impressive, don’t you think? Even on that crude picture. Doug Ellison – of unmannedspaceflight.com and “Eyes on the Solar System” fame – took some literally stunningly-good pics of Curiosity during that drive, so I’ll write and ask him if it’s okay to use a couple here.
Check back again soon!