Farewell Marathon Valley…

Yes, we’re back…!

There has been nothing published on this blog for the past 9 months, I know, and if you’re a regular reader I apologise for that. It wasn’t because I got bored with or fell out of love with Opportunity. Far from it; even tho I haven’t posted here my enthusiasm and support for the MER mission remain as strong as ever. I’ve followed Oppy faithfully, and checked out the pictures she’s sent back, every single day since the last post, way back in January. Since that post Opportunity has been exploring Marathon Valley, taking gorgeous pictures, making measurements, collecting data exactly as she has done every sol since that historic landing more than a dozen years ago. So why haven’t I covered it?

Well, as every blogger knows, sometimes life just gets in the way, you know? There are only so many hours in each day – unless you’re a Time Lord – and my hours have been filled with a lot of book writing and editing, Outreach work in schools and to community groups, “work” work and organising astronomy events. It’s just been impossible to spend as much time as I used to, and still wanted to, on this blog, so I decided to just stop for a while, let Oppy do her thing (whilst keeping an eye on her, of course) and come back when time allowed. To be honest, time doesn’t really allow now, I’m still stupidly busy, but Opportunity is entering a new phase of her incredible mission so it felt right, and necessary, to end my sabbatical, post an update and get the blog running again. So, here we are! I hope some of you are glad to see us back, and will continue to visit this blog to see what our favourite rover is doing.

Okay, let’s catch up – let’s take a look at where Opportunity was the last time I posted, and where she is now. You’ll remember that Opportunity was exploring and working her way down “Marathon Valley”, a wide ‘notch’ in the hilly wall of Endeavour Crater, which she had reached after crossing the vast Meridiani Plain and climbing up onto and then trundling along the crater’s ancient eastern wall..

map2

You can see from that map that Opportunity has now driven out of a gap in the side of Marathon Valley and is heading down-slope, towards the crater floor. She recently parked up in front of a small, low mound, called “Spirit Mound”, and this is the view she had from there…

pano9

As you can see, she still has a fantastic view across Endeavour Crater, right over to the opposite side. But she won’t be staying here for long. NASA has selected another science target for Opportunity, almost 3km further south – a gully, or channel in the crater wall, which might have been carved out of the rick and dust by running water millennia ago ..

map6

map1b

We’ll take a closer look at the gully itself shortly. To reach it, Opportunity will be going on a kind of “Grand Tour” of several different fascinating features along and on either side of the hills. How do we know this? Because there was recently a very important planning meeting to discuss Opportunity’s future, and the future direction of NASA’s Mars exploration in general, and NASA released a report on the meeting which included a very helpful route map for the next leg of Oppy’s incredible journey…

image1

We’re just going to concern ourselves… for now… with the first part of that extended mission – the path to a gully, some 3km “down the road”…

image2

You can see from that map section that Opportunity is now, rather than driving down onto Endeavour’s floor, head back uphill to the higher ground above her current position, then work her way south, hopscotching between various ridges and outcrops before making a sharp turn east back onto the flat plain to pay a visit to an ancient impact crater out there.

to-gully-2

After studying that crater she will head back to the hills, to the northern end of Cape Byron, then work her way down-slope to what looks very much like a water-carved gully cut into the hillside. Here are some views I’ve made of it by viewing HiRISE images of Endeavour Crater with the HiView viewer then cropping and processing them to isolate the gully…

gully3-col-circled

gully-colour1

gully6b

 

How long will this new adventure take? When will Opportunity reach that gully?

No idea, it’s simply impossible to say. Of course, it’s possible she won’t reach it. Remember, after she landed on Mars – in that famous “cosmic hole in one” in Eagle Crater – it was hoped Opportunity would last 90 days on Mars and travel a kilometre before being murdered by the harsh martian environment. Since then she has crossed wide open plains, driven to, around, into and back out of several craters, hunted meteorites, climbed and descended hills and mountains, and more. She’s soaked up every punch Mars has thrown at her, from global dust storms to software- and hardware failures – ad kept going. Now, more than 12 years after she arrived, and tens of kilometres from her landing site, every sol Opportunity wakes up and looks out across Endeavour crater is a bonus, and every sunrise or sunset could be the last she ever sees.

But Opportunity is a rover, that’s what she does, rove, and the science team obviously have faith that she can reach that gully, or at the very least get a good part of the way to it, so after saying farewell to Marathon Valley she’s heading south. And if she reaches the gully, and studies it, she’ll go even further, to an impact crater down on Endeavour’s floor…

map6-crater-future

And after that..? Well, let’s not get carried away! But…

It would be nice to reach Iazu Crater, wouldn’t it? After all, it’s only another 12km away 🙂

iazu-2

Iazu can wait. Before then, let’s see how close Opportunity can get to that gully. Will she reach it? Well, we’ll see. But as a good friend of mine has warned, several times, “Never bet against a Mars rover…”

More soon! (Honest!)

 

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9 Responses to Farewell Marathon Valley…

  1. Jon says:

    Very nice to see a post again 🙂 I can never keep up with the rover myself, so I loved having these posts spoon feed me some space (in a good way!).

  2. I had put this blog’s link in my browser’s favourites list (which pops up everytime I open the browser) and i would check this link from time to time to see if any new posts were made about oppy. I was SO HAPPY to see this post today!! MER is one of my favourite space missions ever!!! I would REALLY LOVE for the rover to reach out and get its ‘wheel print’ on the rim of Iazu! 🙂

  3. Patrick says:

    Fantastic post about the spectacular things Oppy has been up to. You are an exceptionally talented blogger, and the awe and wonder your prose is permeated in brings something uniquely special to the MER missions. Your missives are a contribution to the missions themselves.

  4. QtM says:

    Thanks for coming back and updating us. I’d been cruising other websites reading up on the latest Oppy/Marathon valley info, but no one serves it up as well as you do. IMHO.

  5. Crazee says:

    Your blog will stay in my RSS-Viewer no matter waht happens! No one can raise a claim for updates here. On the contrary most of us appreciate every post you write.
    Thank you for your time!

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