While the wheel-clamped Mars Science Laboratory stands sentinel-still on the floor of Gale Crater, content to just chew on a piece of straw, take in the view and try to avoid the accusing glare of Mt Sharp over her shoulder*, Opportunity is positively raring to go. Listen carefully and you can almost hear her revving her engine and tapping her foot impatiently. She’s ready to drive back down Cape York, roll off it, and head out across Botany Bay towards Solander Point at the northern end of Cape Tribulation. Then she’ll start hill climbing, looking for more deposits of clay-bearing minerals on the Cape’s steep slopes.
But before she sets off Oppy is completing her painstaking study of a fin-like rocky feature on the eastern flank of Cape York. She’s been here for months, photographing and studying the rocks here in incredible detail, making sure every drop of science is squeezed out of them before they’re left behind. It will be a long, long time before anything or anyone else sees these rocks again, so the MER team are obviously determined to make sure they’re known inside and out before they’re abandoned, possibly for a century.
And so, Oppy has been using her rock abrasion tool, or RAT, to drill into the rock at her feet to examine it very closely. She does this because the surfaces of martian rocks have been changed over time, eroded and modified, but the inside of the rocks have been protected and have remained unchanged. Studying the rocks’ interiors tells scientists a lot about what conditions were like on Mars long, long ago.
Which is why Oppy has done this, leaving yet another mark on Mars for future generations to find…
* Only joking! I love Curiosity really, but like many people I wish she’d get on with driving! I know the site she’s at now is hugely interesting and important scientifically, and has been a veritable data goldmine for the science team, but it would be so nice to see those wheels turning, and to see the landscape change. Soon, I hope. 🙂