Aqueous Environments at Endeavour Crater, Mars," in the
January 24, 2014 issue of the journal Science.
The circumstances that led Opportunity to "discover"
these clay mineral-rich rocks results from a huge stroke of
In 2010, the rover team was driving Opportunity
around Matijevic Hill on Endeavour's rim in a systematic
looping pattern looking for rocks. This wasn't an aimless
search, however. The team was being guided by an "eye-in-the-sky" — the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).
Ironically, the MRO didn't arrive in Mars orbit until 2006;
this arrival was years after Opportunity was supposed to
On board the MRO was a mineral mapping instrument:
the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for
Mars. Scanning Matijevic Hill from the MRO, NASA
detected the presence of a clay mineral known as iron-rich
smectite. Commands were issued to Opportunity for
examining this mineral deposit and its associated Martian
geologic layers. The resulting study determined that the
conditions that produced the iron-rich smectite occurred
four billion years ago.
NASA scientists are convinced that this continual
poking about the rocks encircling Endeavour Crater —
coupled with NASA's newest rover and Curiosity's
explorations on the other half of Mars — will aid in the
establishment of future landing sites for human explorers
slated for the 2030s.
"The more we explore Mars, the more interesting it
becomes. These latest findings present yet another kind of
gift that just happens to coincide with Opportunity's 10th
anniversary on Mars," said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for
NASA's Mars Exploration Program.
Steve Squyres of Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, is the
mission's principal investigator. "We are examining a rock
right in front of the rover that is unlike anything we've seen
before. Mars keeps surprising us, just like in the very first
week of the mission."
An Aging Rover Still
Flush with renewed solar energy, Opportunity
demonstrated that this aging rover can still grab an
international headline or two such as: "NASA Finds
Doughnut on Mars!" In mid-January 2014, Opportunity
took an image of a whitish rock laying on the surface of
the red planet.
The rover was beginning robotic arm work on an area
called Cape Elizabeth on Murray Ridge when this rock (or
target) was discovered. Not an earth-shattering discovery
initially, until NASA scientists compared the rock's image
with an earlier image of the same location. "What the ..."
This white rock was NOT in the previous images.
Martian prank theories aside, NASA subsequently named
this rock Pinnacle Island, and noted that its shape was
somewhat round with a darker or hollow center. Viola’ — a
doughnut mystery was born and the press went crazy.
At press time for this article, closer scrutiny of Pinnacle
Island suggests that one of Opportunity's tires might have
flipped a red rock over, thus revealing a white underside.
So much for Martians casting rocks at our rovers or —
better yet — a Martian accidentally dropping a fried cake
treat at our rover's feet, err, wheels.
"Over the past decade, Mars rovers have made the red
planet our workplace, our neighborhood," said John Callas,
manager of NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Project. "The
longevity and the distances driven are remarkable. But even
more important are the discoveries that are made and the
generation that has been inspired."
"As long as the rover keeps going, we'll keep going,"
said chief scientist Steve Squyres.
Thanks for the Opportunity, NASA. SV
SERVO 03.2014 47
Name Come From?
In 2003, NASA — in collaboration with The
LEGO Group — held a naming contest for its
twin robotic geologist Mars Exploration rovers.
From nearly 10,000 contest entries, NASA
selected nine year old Sofi Collis from
Scottsdale, AZ as the winning essay writer.
Sofi's winning essay read: "I used to live in
an orphanage. It was dark and cold and lonely.
At night, I looked up at the sparkly sky and felt
better. I dreamed I could fly there. In America, I
can make all my dreams come true. Thank you
for the 'Spirit' and the 'Opportunity.'"
Images courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell University/
Arizona State University.