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NASA’s Mars Opportunity rover to study origin of Perseverance Valley

This graphic shows the route that NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity drove in its final approach to "Perseverance Valley" on the western rim of Endeavour Crater during spring 2017. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona/NMMNH

Currently on a two-year extended mission, NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover named Opportunity recently reached Perseverance Valley, a site that could offer data on Mars’ potentially more watery past.

Scientists chose the yet-to-be-explorated location after deliberations over aerial images revealed a valley shape at the western rim of a much larger geographical feature named Endeavour Crater.

The crater is located roughly half-way between Cape Tribulation to the valley’s north, and Cape Byron to the south.

“The science team is really jazzed at starting to see this area up close and looking for clues to help us distinguish among multiple hypotheses about how the valley formed.”

Matt Glombek, Opportunity Project Scientist at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena

This graphic shows the route that NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity drove in its final approach to “Perseverance Valley” on the western rim of Endeavour Crater during spring 2017. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona/NMMNH

The mission’s main objective is to use Opportunity’s array of tools to try and understand what formed Perseverance Valley several billion years ago.

Scientists theorize the valley may have been formed by flowing water (like that of a stream), a debris flow akin to a slow moving landslide, or – less-likely – through wind erosion.

Opportunity project manager John Callas explained that long-baseline stereo imaging will be used to create a digital elevation map of Perseverance Valley. NASA scientists will stitch together a high-definition stereoscopic image from images taken by the rover at two different locations.

From there they can plot out possible driving routes for Opportunity to descend into and back out of the valley, a distance of about 240 yards (220 meters).

“We expect to do a little walkabout just outside the crater before driving down Perseverance Valley,” Golombek said.

Previous missions

Opportunity has been active on Mars since early 2004. The rover spent 69 months exploring the rim of the Endeavour Crater, where its team previously discovered that Mars’ early history includes evidence that acidic water flowed across parts of the planet.

NASA’s Opportunity took this photo of the Endeavour Crater on the rover’s 2,676th Martian day, or sol, of working on Mars (August 4, 2011) Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/ASU

Endeavour Crater is about 14 miles (22 kilometers) in diameter, and Perseverance Valley intersects the crater in a segment of its southwestern rim in a mostly west-to-east direction.

Opportunity has traveled about 27.8 miles (44.7km) along Mars, the longest any man-made vehicle has ever traveled on an alien world.

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