New findings from rock samples collected and examined by NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity have confirmed an ancient wet environment that was milder and older than the acidic and oxidizing conditions told by rocks the rover examined previously.
In the Jan. 24 edition of the journal Science, Opportunity Deputy Principal Investigator Ray Arvidson, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis, writes in detail about the discoveries made by the rover and how these discoveries have shaped our knowledge of the planet. According to Arvidson and others on the team, the latest evidence from Opportunity is landmark.
“These rocks are older than any we examined earlier in the mission, and they reveal more favorable conditions for microbial life than any evidence previously examined by investigations with Opportunity,” said Arvidson.
While the Opportunity team celebrates the rover’s 10th anniversary on Mars, they also look forward to what discoveries lie ahead and how a better understanding of Mars will help advance plans for human missions to the planet in the 2030s.
Opportunity’s original mission was to last only three months. On the day of its 10th anniversary on the Red Planet, Opportunity is examining the rim of the Endeavour Crater. It has driven 24 miles (38.7 kilometers) from where it landed on Jan. 24, 2004. The site is about halfway around the planet from NASA’s latest Mars rover, Curiosity.
To find rocks for examination, the rover team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., steered Opportunity in a loop, scanning the ground for promising rocks in an area of Endeavour’s rim called Matijevic Hill. The search was guided by a mineral-mapping instrument on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), which did not arrive at Mars until 2006, long after Opportunity’s mission was expected to end.