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Mars Rover Opportunity Examines Clay Clues In Rock Altered By Water

20 May, 2013

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MessageToEagle.com - NASA's senior Mars rover, Opportunity, is driving to a new study area after a dramatic finish to 20 months on "Cape York" with examination of a rock intensely altered by water.

The fractured rock, called "Esperance," provides evidence about a wet ancient environment possibly favorable for life. The first drive away from Esperance covered 81.7 feet (24.9 meters) on May 14.

"Esperance was so important, we committed several weeks to getting this one measurement of it, even though we knew the clock was ticking," Steve Squyres of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., and the mission's principal investigator, said.



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Rock Target 'Esperance' Altered by Wet History (False Color)

The pale rock in the upper center of this image, about the size of a human forearm, includes a target called "Esperance," which was inspected by NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity. Data from the rover's alpha particle X-ray spectrometer (APXS) indicate that Esperance's composition is higher in aluminum and silica, and lower in calcium and iron, than other rocks Opportunity has examined in more than nine years on Mars. Preliminary interpretation points to clay mineral content due to intensive alteration by water. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/Arizona State Univ.


The mission's engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., had set this week as a deadline for starting a drive toward "Solander Point," where the team plans to keep Opportunity working during its next Martian winter.



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Martian Vista from Opportunity nearing Endeavour Crater on Sol 2678 - August 2011

Large ejecta blocks from the nearby, small Odyssey crater are visible in the middle, foreground and are Opportunity’s next science target in this photo mosaic taken 2 martian days ago on Sol 2678 (Aug. 6). Opportunity is now less than 400 feet from the foothills of Endeavour Crater and will soon make first landfall at Spirit Point - off to the left. Mosaic Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Marco Di Lorenzo/Kenneth Kremer


"What's so special about Esperance is that there was enough water not only for reactions that produced clay minerals, but also enough to flush out ions set loose by those reactions, so that Opportunity can clearly see the alteration," said Scott McLennan of the State University of New York, Stony Brook, a long-term planner for Opportunity's science team.

This rock's composition is unlike any other Opportunity has investigated during nine years on Mars -- higher in aluminum and silica, lower in calcium and iron.

The next destination, Solander Point, and the area Opportunity is leaving, Cape York, both are segments of the rim of Endeavour Crater, which spans 14 miles (22 kilometers) across.



Click on image to enlarge

Opportunity Heads Toward Next Destination, 'Solander Point'

This map of a portion of the western rim of Endeavour Crater on Mars shows the area where NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity worked for 20 months, "Cape York," in relation to the area where the rover team plans for Opportunity to spend its sixth Martian winter, "Solander Point."


The planned driving route to Solander Point is about 1.4 miles (2.2 kilometers).

Cape York has been Opportunity's home since the rover arrived at the western edge of Endeavour in mid-2011 after a two-year trek from a smaller crater.

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See also:
Curiosity Rover To Drill In The "Yellowknife Bay" Area

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