Welcome…

… to the “The Road To Endeavour”, a blog dedicated to following the ongoing mission of the Mars Exploration Rover ‘Opportunity’ as she explores the rim of the giant martian crater ‘Endeavour’!

Opportunity – or “Oppy” as many rover enthusiasts call her – landed on Mars eight years ago, and it was hoped at the time that she’d last maybe 90 days and drive up to a kilometre across the surface of Mars. Eight years later, having survived dust storms, mechanical problems and everything Mars can throw at her, Oppy is still working, and after driving to and studying several smaller craters further north, near her original landing site, she’s now studying a huge crater called “Endeavour”, analysing the rocks and dust there, trying to figure out if that part of Mars was once wetter, and warmer, and maybe even a possible habitat for life. Every day she takes, and sends back to Earth, photographs of the martian landscape, and this is where you’ll find them – original images and many I create myself, by stitching together raw images, colourising them or turning pairs of them into 3D “anaglyphs” which can give you the impresion of being *on* Mars…

This is actually a blog I wasn’t planning to write. I was planning on starting up a blog dedicated to the Mars Science Laboratory – NASA’s next mission to Mars – but when it was announced back in December 2008 the launch of MSL (the “Mars Science Laboratory”, or “Curiosity” to give her her proper name) had been put back from 2009 to 2011, so this is Plan B: a blog that I hoped would turn into a kind of travelogue, first following Opportunity’s long, loooong drive south to Endeavour crate and then chronicling her adventures once she got there – IF she got there…

Well, she not only got there, but since getting there she’s done some amazing science – and the best may yet be to come…

So, here’s the place to come for images of Endeavour Crater, as seen by Mars Reconaissance Orbiter and other probes, and by Oppy herself. It’s not meant to be serious, or particularly scientific, just a place to come for some interesting pictures and news updates, really. I hope you like what you find here, and keep checking for new images. 🙂

Stuart Atkinson

@mars-stu on Twitter

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Time to rest…

Opportunity is spending solar conjunction having a well-deserved rest from roving, and is spending her time just looking around and taking in the view from the top of Perseverance Valley. So, not much to report but a few new pictures to share with you, in no particular order…

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Taking it easy…

Opportunity isn’t going anywhere for a while, not with solar conjunction just around the corner, so she’s taking it easy, just hanging out on Mars, as you do, taking lots of photos, as you would…

Quick catch-up of the most recent pictures I’ve created from the raw images sent back by Oppy…

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While I was making that second image there I was struck by the difference in scale between images sent back by two different space missions on the same day. As Oppy was sending back those images of tiny pieces of grit and stone on the surface of Mars, as seen through its microscope camera, the JUNO mission was sending back its long-awaited images of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, a storm which is bigger than our whole planet…

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As I’ve said many times, one of the great things about being “into” space and this stuff is that it gives you perspective…

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Welcome to Perseverance Valley…

So. Here we are.

Having landed in Eagle Crater in January 2004, in a cosmic “hole in one”… having then driven to and into the beautiful Victoria Crater… having then trekked across the vast dune sea of Meridiani Planum, passing many ancient meteorites along the way… having then triumphantly rolled up onto Cape York and then climbed the rim of Endeavour Crater, Opportunity is now starting a new adventure and beginning to explore Perseverance Valley, an ancient gully-like feature which meanders down the inner slope of Endeavour Crater.

When I got up and went online this morning at ridiculous o’clock as usual I was delighted to see new images had come down from Opportunity overnight, and I was able to stitch them together into an image that shows (I think) our first really clear view of Perseverance Valley. Opportunity is gazing downslope towards the crater floor far below, so, taking in the view during “solar conjunction” before moving on in early August.

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This second image is the first one stretched vertically to bring out the structure of the valley…

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You can see from the images that this is not a *gorge*. The sides of the gully are not really very steep, so when Opportunity gets down there it won’t be like she’s working her way down a toboggan run! I don’t think the topography of the valley is going to be very dramatic in terms of vertical relief. I think the beauty is going to be in the curves of the feature, following its “flow” as it meanders down to the crater floor.

Looking forward to getting going, but can’t begrudge Opportunity a rest. 🙂

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Mars goes to sleep…

Well, not literally. I don’t mean the planet itself is going to nod off – but the rovers trundling around on it are certainly about to grab a coffee, put their feet up and take it easy for a while. Why? This NASA webpage explains

In the meantime, Opportunity has, as I reported in the most recent post, entered Perseverance Valley and started exploring it. And like any self-respecting tourist and sight-seer she has taken a “selfie”. Here’s a colourisation I made from a raw black and white image Oppy sent back yesterday…

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Looking at the bigger picture, it’s very pleasing to report that a couple of the craters close to the entrance to Perseverance Valley have been named after the spacecraft which took astronauts to the Moon on the Apollo 16 mission…

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More soon!

 

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Here’s a good parking spot…

I hope you like this view…

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…because it’s not going to change for the next few weeks. Opportunity has now parked up for a while so we’ll be seeing a lot of similar-looking images during that time. But that;s okay, it’ll allow the mission team to take a really good look around before heading further down into the valley.

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Opportunity Enters Perseverance Valley

After carrying out a detailed “walkabout” study of the terrain at the entrance to Perseverance Valley during the past few weeks, it seems that Opportunity has finally trundled over the edge and started to drive down into the valley. We know this because the rear cameras show this view…

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…and her forward cameras show this view… *downhill*… 🙂

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And if you look closely at that last image you’ll see what appears to be a small crater just up ahead. Looking for that crater on an image of PV (as I’m going to call it from now, I think, to save typing time) allows us to work out really well just where Oppy has got to. And she’s here…

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Here’s a closer and rather more detailed view of that crater… this is a processed, stitched together  mosaic of two separate images sent back by Oppy…

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Haven’t found any reference to a name yet, but I’m sure it will be christened in due course. And we’ll get a closer look at the crater after the next drive, I imagine.

Today was a very appropriate day for Opportunity to roll into Perseverance Valley, because it’s a big anniversary day for our brave girl: on this very day in 2003, Opportunity was launched towards Mars…

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Photo credit: Boeing

Obviously you can’t see it on that image, but at the very top of that Delta rocket, coccooned inside her protective shell and folded up like an origami model,  was Opportunity. Here’s a NASA/JPL photo of how she looked as she was being prepared for being mounted on the rocket…

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Six months later Opportunity landed on Mars and began her great adventure. That adventure continues today, as Opportunity starts to descend the steep slope at the top of Perseverance Valley.  Up ahead of her – who knows? But every time Opportunity has gone somewhere new – and there have been a LOT of “somewhere news” since she landed – she has found something amazing. I’m certain Perseverance valley will be no different.

Bring It On!

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Opportunity on walkabout…

Time (at last!) for an update on what Opportunity has been up to as she prepares to drive down into Perseverance Valley.

Since the last post, Oppy’s team has been working hard to resolve the issue with the front wheel that suddenly refused to turn, and reports from NASA suggest that the wheel is now moving again which must be a huge relief; a stuck wheel wouldn’t have ended Opportunity’s mission – one of Spirit’s wheels jammed, remember, and that didn’t prevent her from continuing her exploration and studies of Homeplate and the features around it (it even led to at least one totally accidental discovery!) – but it obviously would have affected what, and how much she could do down in the valley, and would not have been a welcome development at all. But the wheel is moving again, and Opportunity is now continuing a prolonged “walkabout” around the entrance to Perseverance Valley, wandering to and fro, taking lots of pictures and measurements, basically checking the area out in great detail.

Here’s a map from a recent NASA bulletin showing Opportunity’s meandering path over the past few weeks, since arriving in the vicinity of the valley, and the path she will now take to the valley entrance…

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This is what geologists do here on Earth. When studying a feature they make a detailed survey of the area and other features around it, to see the main feature they want to study in context. Doing this helps them to understand the dynamics of the area, the processes and events that have happened there, why things look the way they do, etc etc. The MER team has sent Opportunity on this walkabout above Perseverance Valley to try and figure out what formed the valley in the first place, how it fits in to the history of Endeavour Crater, and what they might actually find when they get down into the valley itself. And it’s important they do a really detailed survey of the area above and around the valley because once Opportunity drives down that slope she is not coming back up again, at least not back up to where she is now; she is going to work her way down the valley and then drive out onto the crater floor (really looking forward to that!) before heading further south, leaving Perseverance Valley behind.

But the descent into the valley isn’t going to happen for a little while yet; soon Opportunity will have to enter a “go slow” period as Earth passes close to the Sun as seen from Mars (see graphic below, the blue dot shows how close to the Sun Earth will be in the sky in late July), and communications between Oppy and her terrestrial controllers become very limited…

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But don’t worry, once this “solar conjunction” is over Opportunity will get back to doing what she does best – roving and exploring….! Here’s a rough overview of where she is now, and where she will be going…

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This past week or so Opportunity has sent back LOTS of pictures of the scenery around the entrance to the valley but I’ve had a really – and I mean really! – hard time getting them to stitch together with the software I use. I’ve had more luck with individual views though, and here are some of those…

 

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Finally for this post, Curiosity has been sending back some lovely pictures too. Here’s a mosaic I put together from some of them… love the complicated geology visible in this view…

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I’ve said it before and I don’t mind saying it again: the great photographer Ansel Adams would have LOVED photographing Mars… 🙂

Check back soon for more news from Meridiani Planum. In the meantime, here’s your regular reminder of just how incredible an achievement it is for Opportunity to still be driving around Mars… 😉

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