Looking ahead – and up…

I think – I *think* – the MER team are starting to think about where they’re going to send Oppy after her long winter exile on Greeley Haven finally ends. Yesterday Oppy spent a lot of time taking a series of images of a feature on the NE edge of Cape York, a feature many of us rover fans have been hoping to see up close ever since Cape York was chosen as Oppy’s landfall site at Endeavour Crater.

Here’s one of the images…

Doesn’t look much, I know. What is it? Well, I’m pretty sure it’s *this*…

Previously known amongst rover enthusiasts as “The Notch”, “The Wedge”, “The Wound” etc, this feature now appears to have been christenened (informally, remember) “Whim Creek” by the MER team. But why take so many images of it – a so-called “high resolution” sequence? That must be a sign, you’d think, that theyre at least considering driving Oppy down to take a look at it..? In the last MER Update by AJS Rayl over on The Planetary Society blog, MER scientists reported that the plan is to drive Oppy down to the flatter ground that runs around Cape York in search of a larger version of “Homestake”, that bright, gypsum bar Oppy studied – and then ran over, like a stunt driver from a “Fast and Furious” film! – before she climbed up to Greeley Haven. Maybe they think that Whim Creek could be a good hunting ground for gypsum veins? I hope so; that feature has called out to me, and many rover backseat drivers, ever since we arrived! Here’s a 3D view…

Will Oppy trundle down there on a gypsum quest? As ever, we’ll have to wait and see… šŸ™‚

In the meantime, it’s fun to try and look ahead into Oppy’s far future – to her driving away from Cape York altogether and heading south, towards the curving, towering Tribulation Range (my name), and then starts climbing.

Regular readers will remember that a couple of weeks or so ago I was trying, in vain it turned out, to identify some of the features visible on the hills to the south. I made a few guesses, but wasn’t at all confident about them, so I emailed fellow UMSF member, and Mars imager/cartographer extraordinaire James Canvin asking if he could help at all. As ever, James was very generous with his time, and got back to me a few days later with *his* interpretation of the southern landscape, predictably proving that my own guesses were embarrassingly, hopelessly waaaaay off! James sent me this fantsatic picture, which really does, for the first time – for me, anyway- make sense out of the terrain to the south…

Haha! My guesses were so far off it’s unbelievable! After James posted his pic on UMSF another member, FredK, added some more info, so I’m grateful to them both for clearing this up for me. Basically (and this is a VERY simplified version), what we’re seeing is this:

I know what some of you are thinking. WHY am I so bothered about this?! Oppy is months away at best from even getting to the foot of those hills, and as for driving up them, well, that could be *years* away!

I know, I know… but up there, on that hillside, there’s a feature, a spot, a place, that caught my eye as soon as it appeared over Oppy’s horizon as she made her way from Victoria to Cape York, and every time I look at it, in detail on a pancam image, or in the distance on a hazcam image, I know, in my gut, in here, that that is destined to be a very special place in some way. I don’t know more than that. Maybe Oppy is destined to reach it, look down on Endeavour, and take the most famous image of the whole mission… Maybe it will be forever beyond her reach, but in years to come, settlers, explorers and tourists will hike up there and take in the incredible view, standing beside and having their photographs taken with a beautiful, full size crystal statue of Oppy..? I don’t know! But seriously, every time I see it, up there, high on the hillside above Endeavour, I know that place is Important.

What am I on about? This ridge, high up on the hillside…

I have been curious for about a year now as to just what the heck that bright…thing… is. Is it the raised end of a Greeley Haven-like ridge? Is it a single huge boulder standing like a sentinel, watching over Endeavour? That’s why I wanted to ID it on a HiRISE image of the hills. Now, thanks to James, I’ve been able to pin down exactly where it is, and now have a much better idea about what it is, too

Firstly, where is it? It’s here…

And how far are we talking..?

So, about 4km away… Worth driving to? Here’s a more detailed view of its location…

So, that’s where it is… but what IS it..? Taking a closer look we can see that it is…

…definitely a ridge, raised up at one end, leading to – or away from, depending on your point of view – a rather nice crater.

It’s a bit hard to get a sense of scale from that image, I know, so how big is this ridge compared to Cape York? If we coulde magically transport it there, how big would it be compared to the now familiar-features of the Cape? Take a look…

Hmmm. From that you can clearly see that the crater on the end of the ridge is bigger (and deeper?) than Odyssey crater at the southern end of Cape York. And the ridge itself is a very respectable length, too. A tempting target for a rover, surely..?

But it’s still hard to get a sense of scale of that ridge, I know. So what would Oppy look like next to it? Or *on* it? I have made a few images using the fantastic HiVIEW site and Photoshop, simulating what Oppy would look like on HiRISE images if she ever reached the ridge. NOTE: this is just for fun, I’m not claiming 100% accuracy, ok? But I think it shows just what a fascinating place to visit this ridge would be…

That looks like a real rover playground, doesn’t it? šŸ™‚ But it’s only when you look at this area in 3D that you get a sense of how interesting it would be up there…

I know… wow… šŸ™‚

But, you know, 4km away… uphill… and past the most promising area for those precious phylosillicates… so the odds on Oppy ever reaching it aren’t good. But I have no doubt that if she did reach it, she’d enjoy a heck of a view. And even if Oppy doesn’t make it up there, in the years and centuries to come, *people* will trek up there, simply for the view. From there they’ll be able to look down on and right across Endeavour crater… they’ll be able to see Cape York, Oppy’s landfall site at the great crater… looking to the north west, maybe they’ll even be able to spot Victoria Crater too?

Just imagine it’s 2112, and you’ve just trekked up the hill to the ridge. Standing still, bent over, hands on your knees, dragging in deep breaths, you look up and see Endeavour stretched out before and below you… to the east, the crater-pocked hills of the eastern rim are bathed in orange sunlight, as the martian afternoon draws to an end… beneath you, the crater floor is rippled with dark dust dunes, looking like Arrakian sandworms… behind you, the summit of the Tribulation range is calling, but you’re quite happy where you are, for now at least, because here there’s a beautiful, full size crystal statue of Opportunity, and a round crystal plinth, with a panoramic map pointing out all the main features and placs on the horizon. At peak tourist season this place is heaving with visitors – couples, families, historians and tourists, all desperate to enjoy the view – but you’re alone, and can drink in the spectacular scenery in silence…

Maybe one day that will happen for real. I hope so.

In the meantime, hey Oppy, let’s go see Whim Creek! šŸ™‚

Update: I’m indebted to the aforementioned UMSF member fredk for pointing me towards a very interesting pic of the ridge (this is no good, I’m going to have to come up with a nickname… I’ll think about that) on the official PANCAM website…

http://pancam.astro.cornell.edu/pancam_instrument/images/Sol2720B_P2544_superres_4x.tif

I had a play about with it and got this…

Would be nice to go up there and see that up close, wouldn’t it..? šŸ™‚

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One Response to Looking ahead – and up…

  1. Buck says:

    Stunning work, wow!

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