Well, they’re not blueberries. That’s about as close as NASA comes to describing these bumps that the Opportunity rover has photographed from the Western rim of Mars’ Endeavor Crater. In 2004, soon after the rover arrived on the Red Planet, it encountered iron rich orbs (nicknamed blueberries) in the Victoria Cater that scientists cite as evidence for water in Mars’ past. After a preliminary analysis, the researchers found that these new Martian goosebumps, each about 3 millimeters wide, have a very different composition. In a press release, Opportunity’s principal investigator Steve Squyres described the newfound formations as “crunchy on the outside, and softer in the middle” and said that they are considering multiple hypotheses about what these bumps might mean. For now, however, how they were formed—and what they might reveal—remains a mystery.
Image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./ USGS/Modesto Junior College
Concept art of Curiosity on Mars
With any luck, NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity will land successfully in August and trundle off across the surface of the Red Planet. Headlines will laud the brave little robot travelling so far from home. But behind Curiosity, and its predecessors Spirit and Opportunity, is a team of human operators.
Over at Popular Science, Rebecca Boyle looks into the experiences of the rover drivers.
Scott Maxwell stared at his bedroom ceiling in the hours after his first drive, restless with excitement. All systems were go, and he’d sent the commands by the time he left the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Now he was supposed to sleep before his next shift on Mars time. But he knew that on the fourth planet from the sun, the Spirit rover’s wheels had started to move.
In January 2004, the Mars rover Opportunity, along with its brother Spirit, landed on the Red Planet. Eight months later we were wowed by their longevity, as both the machines had crawled long past their expected 90-day lifetimes. This year Spirit got intractably stuck in the sand and NASA announced that its days of wandering were finally at an end. But not Opportunity: The less mechanically troubled of the twins, Opportunity continues to rove the surface of Mars, and this week it passed the duration record for time on Mars set by NASA’s Viking 1 lander when it died in 1982. As of today, Opportunity has been operating on Mars for six years and 118 days.
By this March, Opportunity had driven more than 12 miles on the surface of Mars (on the far side of the planet from Spirit). But even a plucky rover needs breaks, especially now when the light level doesn’t allow constant driving. This image shows Opportunity’s tracks on a journey from one well-lit spot to the next, where it could recharge. However, the light level is increasing where the rover is located, so soon it should be able to take longer drives.
Click through for some more of Opportunity’s best images.