Sometime today Oppy will pass a major milestone on her epic trek to Endeavour crater. Sometime today she will roll over a small, unmarked and unremarkable dust dune on the surface of Mars that will mark the 29km point in her journey. Think about that for a moment. 29km. Twenty nine kilometres. I hope the MER team, as busy as they are, will allow themselves a moment to celebrate and congratulate each other on this incredible achievement. As we all know, when the MERs landed on Mars hopes were high that they might survive for 90 days, and maybe travel as far as a kilometre… they’ve done rather better than that. 🙂
As Oppy rolls on across Meridiani, homing in on Cape York, optimism is growing that she will achieve what was was once thought impossible – reach the crater’s rim and carry out serious science there. Of course, no-one’s taking this for granted; she could fail any day… any moment… she could have fallen apart into a thousand pieces like a clown car as you started to read this… but on the quiet, without wanting to jinx her or count any unhatched chickens, I think most of us who follow the MER mission are now quietly confident that sometime in the summer Oppy will reach the rim of Endeavour Crater.
Well, in his interview above, Ray Arvidson gave us a sneaky peek at what is in store for Oppy once she reaches Cape York…
“Opportunity will cross Botany Bay and make measurements of the exposed plains rocks because newly acquired oversampled CRISM observations indicate the presence of poly-hydrated sulfate mineral exposures that we wish to check out. We will then access the Fe/Mg smectites on the Endeavour side of Cape York (ancient Endeavour rim materials) to make detailed measurements.”
Soooooo….. I took that to mean that Oppy will drive right down the western side of Cape York, curve around the southern end and then climb up the eastern, Endeavour-facing side, to reach the precious phyllosilicates on the eastern side… maybe something like this..?
3D rendering courtesy of Bernhard Braun
That’s one possible route, but of course there are lots of others. They’ll decide how to get up there when they’re a lot closer. But I think they’ll head for that general area because that’s where the goodies are, that’s where the “Holy Grail” phyllosilicates are, shown in red here on a CRISM image…
Now, obviously it will be *fantastic* to find some phyllosilicates and study them properly, but personally I’m just as excited about what Oppy will see from up there. Looking to the west she won’t see much, because she’ll be at the bottom of something of a dip in the local topography. But turning around to look to the east… she’ll have the eastern hills of Endeavour spread out before her. Now, we probably won’t see an awful lot more detail on those hills than we can see now – even when Oppy reaxches Cape York those hills will still be some 20km further away across the other side of the huge crater – but we will be able to see the full extent of them, right down to their base, across the crater’s floor. They should be a wonderful sight. I honestly think we’ll see some beautiful views.
So, Oppy is making good progress, and by the time you read this she’ll probably have passed the “29km driven” mark. Ahead, the rim of Endeavour, and the promise of some incredible science if and when she rolls up to Cape York and goes hunting for those precious phyllosilicates. But what exactly are those? Why are they so important? Why is the prospect of finding them at Endeavour making the scientists drool?
We’ll take a really close look at that in another post soon… 🙂