Opportunity has found clays on the rim of Endeavour Crater!

Look at this picture…

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See that rugby ball-shaped area at the top? The pale feature? It doesn’t look much like a martian Holy Grail, does it? But it is…

That’s “Whitewater Lake”. You may remember Oppy drove up to it and studied it in great detail back in October, before taking off northwards, scouting around the area before driving back again. It turns out that Whitewater Lake has the MER mission scientists very excited, because analysis of its materials suggests it contains smectite, the clays the rover came all this way to look for.

MER scientist Steve Squyres spoke about this at the recent AGU Conference in San Francisco. “The nature of the rocks that we have found, that we think are the ones that contain the clays, are very soft,” he said. “They’re light-toned; they’re very fine-grained – so all the things that you would expect if clay minerals were present. They’re layered and their composition is consistent with clay minerals being present.”

…which I reckon is cautious Mars scientist-speak for “Ha! GOTCHA!!!!!!”

And just why is finding this smectite so important? Why is finding clays on Mars so exciting? AJS Rayl explained it perfectly in her most recent MER Update on The Planetary Society’s blog…

In brief, smectite is an iron-magnesium clay mineral, usually white, green or gray in color on Earth, belonging to a class of silicate minerals known as phyllosilicates. Finding clay minerals of any kind is a big deal for Opportunity for the simple reason that clay minerals are evidence of past water that was neutral to alkaline, water much more suitable for the emergence of life than the past highly acidic water for which both Spirit and Opportunity found evidence during their prime mission in 2004.

So this is VERY exciting news indeed! But it doesn‘t mean “Mission Accomplished”, oh no. It just means an exciting new chapter in Opportunity’s almost 9 year old, slightly-battered, dust-covered “Big Book of Martian Exploration” has begun.

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2 Responses to Opportunity has found clays on the rim of Endeavour Crater!

  1. Birgit says:

    Jo, i am say also : Yeah ! Just carry on , little Oppy !!!!!

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