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NASA Mars rover to study fluid-carved valley's origin

17 Mai 2017

"Perseverance Valley" lies just on the other side of the dip in the crater rim visible in the left half of this 360-degree panorama from the Navigation Camera (Navcam) on NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity.

NASA reports that the rover has reached its next assigned destination in Mars' Perseverance Valley. The rover will explore an ancient fluid-carved valley, which is incised on the inner slope of a massive crater's rim.

As NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity approached the upper end of "Perseverance Valley" in early May - the main destination of its extended mission - images from its cameras began showing parts of the area in greater resolution than what can be seen in images taken from orbit above the red planet.

"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", said Opportunity Project Scientist Matt Golombek of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the US.

NASA says it is still not sure what carved the valley into the rim billions of years ago on Mars, but believe it could have been flowing water, debris flow in water mixed with mud and boulders, or wind erosion.

The mission's main objective with Opportunity at this site is to assess which possibility is best supported by the evidence still in place.

The rover team says it plans to investigate the area by taking images from two separate points that dip into its rim. This long-baseline stereo imaging will provide information for extraordinarily detailed three-dimensional analysis of the terrain. The map covers an area about four-tenths of a mile (two-thirds of a kilometer) wide, with the interior of the crater on the right.

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It could be hard to reverse the route uphill while the Opportunity is partway down, hence finding a path with minimal hindrance across the valley will be crucial for driving the robotic rover. Researchers intend to use the rover to examine textures and compositions at the top, throughout the length and at the bottom, as part of investigating the valley's history. "We expect to do a little walkabout just outside the crater before driving down Perseverance Valley", Golombek said.

The rover, Opportunity, was launched way back in 2003, and was only expected to carry out its observation and research mission for a few months.

Areas on and near the western rim of Endeavour Crater have been explored by the Opportunity for nearly half of the mission, ie 69 months, which led to the discovery of even older rocks.

Opportunity arrived from the northwest at a point corresponding to about the 10 o'clock position on the circle if north is noon; Perseverance Valley slices west to east at approximately the 8 o'clock position, a statement by NASA revealed.

The rover has hustled southward to reach the crown of the valley in recent weeks. This view looks back at the southern end of Cape Tribulation from about two football fields' distance away.

In seven drives between then and arriving at the destination on May 4, it covered 377 yards (345 meters), bringing the mission's total odometry to about 27.8 miles (44.7 kilometers), the NASA statement concluded.

In the course of the years that Curiosity and Opportunity - rovers sent to Mars by NASA - have been scaling the surface of the planet, we have been treated to numerous images and discoveries found on the Martian surface, a lot of them being ground-breaking. JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, built Opportunity and manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

NASA Mars rover to study fluid-carved valley's origin