After eight years on Mars, Opportunity is still going strong – and still discovering new things! “Completely new” things, in fact, to paraphrase principal investigator Steve Squyres…
While roaming about on Cape York, a large rise on the southwestern edge of Endeavour crater, Opportunity spied a bright vein of rock sticking up through the scrabbly Martian soil. It’s spotted these before, while on approach to Endeavour, but at that point the MER team had their sights set on reaching the crater. Now Opportunity’s spotted another vein, and it’s time to take a closer look!
What could this bright streak – nicknamed “Homestake” – be? It’s definitely something they haven’t come across yet on Mars… could it be some of those phyllosilicates that they’ve been searching for? Those are minerals that would basically “seal the deal” that this area had once been covered by salty water, so many millions – maybe even billions! – of years ago. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spotted evidence of these minerals from orbit back in 2009… could it be that now Opportunity, three years later and a couple hundred miles below, has literally run across some?
“These are different than anything from anything we’ve ever seen with either rover, a completely new thing on Mars, never seen anywhere. And we’re pretty charged up about it.”
– Steve Squyres, Cornell University, MER principal investigator
Only time will tell at this point. There’s still a lot of investigation to be done, and with winter approaching on Mars Opportunity needs to get herself onto a safe place where she can soak in the sun and keep warm… or else.
Still, it’s hard not to take some images of Homestake before the rover needs to drive off in search of a winter haven. The one above was recolored by Stu Atkinson for his blog The Road to Endeavour, which is a great place to keep up with Opportunity’s travels. There’s lots more images there too, including some excellent 3D ones if you have some red/blue glasses handy.