The Long Window of Opportunity: Keeping Tabs on Mars’ Oldest Rover

When the Mars Rover Opportunity first touched down on Mars in January of 2004, it was originally envisioned that its mission would last only 90 martian days, or sols (each of which clocks in at only 40 minutes longer than a day on earth).

However, 5004 sols later, and Opportunity is “still showing us surprises”, said Opportunity Project Manager John Callas, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

In fact, Opportunity, on its journey through Perseverance Valley, has just recently sent home a picture of land with what seems to be stone stripes: a patterned ground texture commonly found on earth in areas of freezing and thawing wet soil.

These peculiar polygonal patterns had often been mistaken by scientists to be man-made, before geological simulations first indicated the relationship of this phenomenon with frost heaving, or the expansion of soil during freezing conditions.

The implications of these stone stripes remain unknown, as the roverteam scientists are still entertaining a wide range of hypotheses. Since on earth there is a high correlation between this phenomenon and moisture, scientists are analyzing any clues that might lead to water, wind, or ice in the valley.

Despite the uncertainty around the captured photographs, one thing is undeniable: Opportunity is the gift that keeps on giving. “We’ve reached lots of milestones, and this is one more,” Callas said in regards to Opportunity’s 5000th sol, “but more important than the numbers are the exploration and the scientific discoveries.

Yousuf Badawi

Originally Published in Vol. 47 Issue 9 on February 21st, 2018

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