Getting ready to roll…

Apologies for the lack of updates recently, but I’ve been very very busy keeping my “Waiting for ISON” comet blog up to date, as Comet PANSTARRS swung up into the northern sky after dazzling southern hemisphere observers for months. Charts to make, observing reports to write up, up to 7000 “hits” a day, it’s been a bit crazy I don’t mind admitting! But having finally seen PANSTARRS for myself on Wednesday night I vowed to set aside some time to update *this* blog, which is well overdue, I know! So, a quick catch-up – where is Oppy now?

Well, she’s still on the eastern flank of Cape York, still studying the rocks and landforms and minerals at Majevic Hill, still taking beautiful pictures. She’s just completed a circuit of a small geologically-fascinating area, ending up where she was months ago …

CY1b

…looking at this familiar feature…

2L

3d1

…but she’s getting itchy wheels, and so, apparently, are her drivers and science team, and it seems pretty certain that before too long Oppy will drive away from where she is now, head south, back down the way she originally came, roll off Cape York back onto the flatter surrounding terrain, and then head south, continuing the curve of the great Endeavour crater’s western rim, heading for Solander Point, where a whole new chapter of her thrilling story will begin…

The exact route she will take after leaving Cape York isn’t set in stone yet. One route would have her driving something of a dog leg, stopping at a mini version of Cape York called “Nobby’s head” (no, really, it is…) before continuing to Solander Point. But a more direct route is also being considered, which would miss out “Nobby’s Head” altogether…

CY4b

Why? What’s the rush? Well, two reasons. Firstly, Oppy is about to be hidden from Earth as Mars goes behind the Sun relative to the Earth, so communicating with her will happen less often than it does usually, so she’ll be on “auto pilot” for a while, carrying out some science experiments and tasks but not really driving very much. Also, winter is approaching, and that means Oppy has to find somewhere where she can park up somewhere that tilts towardsthe Sun as it traces out its low arc across the martian sky, allowing her to  soak up as many of the Sun’s rays as she can to keep her going and functioning. So the timetable is taking shape, and Oppy is set to depart from here no later than May 9th, and has to be at those Sun-facing Solander slopes by August or things could get nasty.

How do we know this? Because it’s all in the latest fantastic, fact-packed MER Update by AJS Rayl, over on The Planetary Society blog, that’s how…

In the meantime, Oppy continues to take beautiful images, like this…

pano mar 15b

…and continues to amaze and delight all of her team, and her loyal followers, with her sheer guts and determination. More than 9 years after landing on Mars, Opportunity is still driving, still doing science, still fighting fit, and there can’t be many people who doubt her greatest days and greatest achievements are probably still ahead of her. I think that when she crosses Botany Bay and makes landfall at Solander Point, at the northern end of Cape Tribulation, we are going to see *incredible* views. Personally I’m looking forward to seeing the images she takes of Cape York, as she looks back at where she came from, but the views looking south, along and up to the heights of Cape Tribulation, should be beautiful.

So. Cape York has been brilliant, hasn’t it? One of the highlights of the trip so far! But it’s almost time to go. Pack up everyone, make sure you don’t forget everything. Once we leave we won’t be coming back, and no-one else will be passing by this area for a long, long, long time…

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4 Responses to Getting ready to roll…

  1. boutell says:

    Yikes, WordPress terminated your site! ): I hope it’ll be back.

  2. Paul Goda says:

    Why has Opportunity stayed in one place for so long?

    • phoenixpics says:

      Paul, Oppy has stayed in the same area for so long because she’s been carrying out a very detailed geological survey of the rocks and ground features there. Just like a human geologist would do, she’s very carefully explored the area, looking at all the different types of rocks there to try and see how they all fit together scientifically, building up a picture of the area’s past. She’ll be moving on fairly soon.

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