I hope you all like the view Oppy has at the moment, because we’re going to be here for a while yet. The geology of, and around, these outcrops is clearly so intriguing and fascinating that the MER team has decided there’s a lot more work to do here before Oppy drives back downslope and continues her trek down the eastern flank of Cape York, towards the hills of Cape Tribulation. They certainly seem very impressed by, and interested in, “Whitewater Lake”…
But the whole area seems to be bristling with promise. Here’s a press release put out yesterday by NASA…
September 28, 2012
PASADENA, Calif. — NASA’s Mars rover Opportunity, well into its ninth year on Mars, will work for the next several weeks or months at a site with some of the mission’s most intriguing geological features.
The site, called “Matijevic Hill,” overlooks 14-mile-wide (22-kilometer-wide) Endeavour Crater. Opportunity has begun investigating the site’s concentration of small spherical objects reminiscent of, but different from, the iron-rich spheres nicknamed “blueberries” at the rover’s landing site nearly 22 driving miles ago (35 kilometers).
The small spheres at Matijevic Hill have different composition and internal structure. Opportunity’s science team is evaluating a range of possibilities for how they formed. The spheres are up to about an eighth of an inch (3 millimeters) in diameter.
The “blueberries” found earlier are concretions formed by the action of mineral-laden water inside rocks, but that is only one of the ways nature can make small, rounded particles. One working hypothesis, out of several, is that the new-found spherules are also concretions but with a different composition. Others include that they may be accretionary lapilli formed in volcanic ash eruptions, impact spherules formed in impact events, or devitrification spherules resulting from formation of crystals from formerly melted material. There are other possibilities, too.
“Right now we have multiple working hypotheses, and each hypothesis makes certain predictions about things like what the spherules are made of and how they are distributed,” said Opportunity’s principal investigator, Steve Squyres, of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y. “Our job as we explore Matijevic Hill in the months ahead will be to make the observations that will let us test all the hypotheses carefully, and find the one that best fits the observations.”
The team chose to refer to this important site as Matijevic Hill in honor of Jacob Matijevic (1947-2012), who led the engineering team for the twin Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity for several years before and after their landings. He worked at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., from 1981 until his death last month, most recently as chief engineer for surface operations systems of NASA’s third-generation Mars rover, Curiosity. In the 1990s, he led the engineering team for the first Mars rover, Sojourner.
A different Mars rover team, operating Curiosity, has also named a feature for Matijevic: a rock that Curiosity recently investigated about halfway around the planet from Matijevic Hill.
“We wouldn’t have gotten to Matijevic Hill, eight-and-a-half years after Opportunity’s landing, without Jake Matijevic,” Squyres said.
Opportunity’s project manager, John Callas, of JPL, said, “If there is one person who represents the heart and soul of all three generations of Mars rovers — Sojourner, Spirit and Opportunity, Curiosity — it was Jake.”
So, there you go! The berries here, the blade-like outcrops, the scoured plates, have obviously got the noses of the MER science team twitching, so I think we’re going to be here for at least a couple of weeks more. Which is fine by me; I think there’s something going on here, something which will prove to be one of the scientific highlights of the mission. So, we can expect a lot of real, hard science here – maybe not so many more pretty pictures, but a lot of fascinating study and research from the science team, which will no doubt be explained and translated in a NASA TV broadcast media conference in due course.
In the meantime, here you go – an enhanced view of the RAT hole drilled into Whitewater Lake…