To Sao Gabriel – and beyond!

Yesterday the MER team allowed one of its planning meetings to be broadcast live on t’internet, and although I couldn’t watch it as it happened, I caught up with the meeting via a recording of it on YouTube, and fascinating it was too! There was a LOT of very technical stuff , which I can’t even pretend to understand, but some real nuggets of info came out during the meeting…

* The small crater Oppy is now driving towards has been called (provisionally) “Sao Gabriel”. (Why? Tell you later!)

* After studying this crater, Oppy will continue on to take a close look at “Whim Creek”, that notch cut out of the ‘shore’ of the Cape. (We’re already starting to get glimpses of it – show you later!)

* After actually driving *across* Whim Creek Oppy will then start to make her way down the eastern flank of Cape York, kind of hop-scotching between the small craters that dot its side, before driving off Cape York ( and then heading off the Cape towards Cape Tribulation, I imagine…? Anyway, we now have a map…kind of… show you that later, too!)

* To allow the spacecraft orbiting Mars to concentrate all their atention on MSL “Curiosity” as she prepares to land, then – hopefully! – lands and prepares to start exploring Gale Crater, Oppy will be “stood down” for a week or so – between Aug 2nd and 9th I make it – and we won’t hear much from her during that time.

So, let’s take a look at those points, one by one.

The crater Oppy is now driving towards has been christened “Sao Gabriel” – why? Well, there’s a tradition of naming craters encountered by Oppy during her great adventure on Mars after “ships of exploration”. hence ‘Victoria’, ‘Endurance’ and the smaller craters named after Apollo and Gemini capsules. “Sao Gabriel”was the flagship of explorer Vasco de Gama’s armada which journeyed to India between 1497-1499. Here’s a pic…

(from the website: )

Why explore this little crater? Well, because craters are very convenient windows into the past of the body they’ve been blasted out of, allowing scientists to look back in time and see how things have changed. Inside craters we see different rocks, different layers and generally just different “stuff”. So, that’s why Oppy has zig-zagged across Meridiani, hop-scotching from one crater to another – each crater she’s visited has taught her more and more about the history of this part of Mars, and that’s why the proposed, provisional, tentative route down the eastern side of Cape York will see her doing the same.

I stitched together a couple of the slides shown onscreen during the SOWAG broadcast, which show the route the MER team are planning to take down the side of Cape York…

Let’s put that route on a perspective view of the Cape, as rendered by Google Mars…

Important to stress that *is* just a provisional route – plans will change as Oppy encounters things along the way that will result in delays and detours etc – but they won’t stray *too* far from that line, I think.

Now, Whim Creek…

Ever since we first saw that strange “wound” hacked out of the NE side of Cape York we’ve been intrigued by it, haven’t we? It looks so different to everything else on or around the Cape, like a giant axe slammed down into the rocky island and left a v-shaped scar in it. And on HiRISE images it looks dramatic – deep, sharp-edged, like a small valley. But, Cape York essentially lies to us every chance it gets, and features which look high and dramatic from orbit turn out to have very little surface relief and be very geologically subdued in reality, and the first images we have of “The Creek” as Oppy approaches it are suggesting that it’s really more like a shallow ditch of some sort, rather than a steep-edged gully or anything like that… (if the next image isn’t animating, with a red ring picking out Whim Creek, click on it, that should start it off)

And in 3D…

Stretching that vertically brings out a little more detail, but not enough to really draw any conclusions I don’t think…

Clearly we won’t see Whim Creek properly until Oppy drives over there and takes a look from right beside it. And then drives across it..? Hmmm. Not sure about that, we’ll have to wait and see.

Check back soon for another update – in the meantime, take a look at the “Rover Wisdom” page on The Planetary Society’s blog, for some words of advice from Oppy for her big sister, Curiosity, as the nuclear-powered rover closes in on Mars…


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3 Responses to To Sao Gabriel – and beyond!

  1. starbuck5250 says:

    The Plan is revealed! Very cool, thanks Stu!

  2. Chris S says:

    Where can we find links to these planning meetings? I’d love to watch them.

    • phoenixpics says:

      Sorry, they’re not usually shown, you can’t watch them. If they ever decide to broadcast another I’ll make a note of that here.

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