Opportunity – still roving…

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I do a lot of astronomy and space exploration Outreach work – talks, observing nights etc – and it will surprise none of you to learn that one of the subjects I talk most about is Mars. There’s a lot of interest in Mars “out there”; thanks to films like “The Martian” , the recent NatGeo series “Mars” and science fiction in general, people are as fascinated by the red planet today as they have ever been. Which is great! But one thing I hear time and time again when I give my talks, or talk to people about Mars as I’m pointing it out in the sky, is: “Is that Mars rover still working?” But they don’t mean Opportunity, they mean Curiosity, either because they assume Opportunity died years ago, or because they didn’t even know about Opportunity in the first place. Boy, are they amazed to learn that there are not one but TWO rovers on Mars, and Opportunity has been there since 2004…!

And yes, I’ll admit it, that hacks me off.

I’ve thought for quite a while now that Opportunity isn’t given the credit she deserves, not by space reporters (with the notable exception of AJS Rayl, who writes brilliant updates on Opportunity’s ongoing mission every month on the Planetary Society blog), not by space websites or magazines, and certainly not by NASA. I have no doubt that NASA’s “Mars community” is full of love for Oppy, but I really don’t think those higher up feel the same.

What evidence have I got for this? Well, recently Opportunity passed another quite stunning milestone in her mission – she passed the 45km mark on her epic trek across Mars. Did NASA celebrate this? Did they put out even a press release? No. Nothing. Silence. Outside of the Mars community, Opportunity is the forgotten rover.

Which is very unfair and very wrong. Sure, Curiosity is doing very worthy science, and…now… sending back beautiful images, but the very fact that Opportunity is still working is incredible, an incredible achievement. But she’s not just “working”; she’s still going strong, still doing fantastic science. As you can see from the image at the top of this post, which I made by combining and then processing three images sent back by Oppy over the weekend – she is now exploring the meandering course of Perseverance Valley after not only reaching Endeavour crater but CLIMBING its rim, driving along it and then descending down the other side like some kind of intrepid mountaineer. What a story!

But is she – or the wonderful team behind her – getting any credit for this? No.

So, today I’m feeling a bit like this…

msl vs mer

The pic above is just a bit of fun, but I am genuinely frustrated and annoyed by this.

I think what made it worse was that last night, when I was browsing a new update of the image archives of the ESA Mars Express mission I came across this one…

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What’s so special about that? Well, if you look to the lower left, not quite at the bottom, you’ll see this…

HF798_0000_ND2 show

…and that top crater in the chain of three is Endeavour, the crater Opportunity is exploring right now… in the crop below I’ve turned things around so the crater is at the northern end of the chain and the “right way around”…

HF798_0000_ND2ful

Let’s put that into context. First, let’s remind ourselves where Opportunity’s landing site was in relation to the best-known features on Mars – the Mariner Valley and the Tharsis volcanoes… the yellow arrow guides you to it…

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On the next image I’ve shown a more detailed view of where Opportunity landed, picked out Victoria Crater – the beautiful big landmark crater she explored before setting off for Endeavour – and Endeavour itself, where she is now…

crater route

An incredible journey, I’m sure you’ll agree. And, as I said earlier, Oppy has now driven a hugely impressive 45km across the surface of Mars – much further than the length of a marathon.

But when you zoom back out again, and look at the whole of the Mars Express frame, you realise just how tiny a part of Mars Opportunity has explored since landing all those years ago… and you can’t help but wonder what incredible sights we would have seen if she had landed a little further north, or south, or west, somewhere closer to one of the other spectacular features in this region…

HF798_0000_ND2full2q

Of course, the area Opportunity landed in is fascinating to study, and Opportunity is currently carrying out a survey of Perseverance Valley, a channel running down the inner slope of Endeavour which might… might!… have been carved out by water a long, long time ago. Here’s my latest panoramic view…  think this is what Oppy sees looking over her shoulder, at her tracks leading back towards the top of her entry ramp…

pano17

I want to finish this post by returning to my frustration with the lack of interest in Opportunity’s mission, and the lack of support for it from some quarters. I was delighted to see the opening titles of the new Star Trek series, “Star Trek: Discovery” feature Victoria Crater, which Oppy visited before Endeavour. You might recall that the opening titles of a previous Star Trek series, “Enterprise”, featured an animation of the Sojourner rover on Mars? So, this was a nice nod of appreciation to the exploration of Mars by rovers, I thought.

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If you don’t recognise Victoria from that image, this will help…

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Check back for more on Opportunity’s continuing mission…

To seek out strange new rocks, and new geological features…

To boldly go where no rover has gone before…

🙂

 

 

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One Response to Opportunity – still roving…

  1. requalls2015 says:

    Thanks! Oppy is and will be the 1# rover to me. I have been checking in on her every day when I have an internet connection from her landing until this morning. I really love your coverage, opinions, and work with photos. I have followed your blog from the beginning. Please keep it up!!

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