NASA’s senior Mars rover, Opportunity, worked through the lowest-solar-energy days of the mission’s seventh Martian winter, while using a diamond-toothed rock grinder and other tools in recent weeks to investigate clues about the Red Planet’s environmental history.
The modern Mars environment lent a hand, providing wind that removed some dust from Opportunity’s solar panels in the weeks before and after the Mars southern hemisphere’s winter solstice on Jan. 2.
“Opportunity has stayed very active this winter, in part because the solar arrays have been much cleaner than in the past few winters,” said Mars Exploration Rover Project Manager John Callas, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.
With the winter solstice over, the amount of sunshine available to Opportunity will continue to increase for most of 2016.
The mission has just passed the 12th anniversary of its bouncy, hole-in-one landing on Mars. It landed on Jan. 24, 2004, PST (early Jan. 25, UTC). After the air-bag-cushioned craft stopped rolling inside Eagle Crater, which is about 72 feet (22 meters) in diameter, it opened to release the rover. Inspection of rocks in Eagle Crater during the originally planned mission of three months yielded evidence of wet, acidic environmental conditions on ancient Mars.
Researchers used Opportunity to examine a series of larger and ever more distant craters over the next few years, for access to deeper and older layers of Mars’ history. … (JPL)