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Date: Thursday September 7, 2006 11:15:00 am | Views: 103
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    Rover nears crater science trove
    Opportunity has been travelling to Victoria crater for about half its mission
    robotic Mars rover Opportunity is closing in on what could be the
    richest scientific “treasure trove” of its mission so far.Within the
    next two weeks, Opportunity should reach the rim of a crater wider and
    deeper than any it has visited in more than two-and-a-half years on
    Mars.Rocks exposed in the walls of Victoria Crater could open a new
    window into the geological history of the Red Planet.Opportunity has
    been exploring Mars’ Meridiani Plains since January 2004.Its “twin”,
    the Spirit rover, continues to explore Gusev Crater on the other side
    of the Red Planet.Images from Nasa’s Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft
    show a stack of layered bedrock about 30-40m (100-130ft) thick in the
    walls of Victoria.”We have a fully functional vehicle with all the
    instruments working. We’re ready to hit Victoria with everything we’ve
    got,” said Byron Jones, a rover mission manager at Nasa’s Jet
    Propulsion Laboratory in California.

    Surviving the winter
    Arvidson, deputy principal investigator for the rovers, said that
    exploring the rocks in Victoria Crater would greatly increase
    understanding of past conditions on Mars, including the role of
    water.”In particular, we are very interested in whether the rocks
    continue to show evidence for having been formed in shallow lakes,”
    said the scientist, who is based at Washington University in St Louis,

    Mars rover (Nasa)
    We’re ready to hit Victoria with everything we’ve got
    Jones, Nasa JPLIt is still winter in the Martian southern hemisphere
    where Opportunity is exploring. But the days have started to get longer
    again, so Opportunity’s power supply from its solar panels is
    increasing day by day.During its first two months on the Red Planet,
    Opportunity examined a pile of rock layers 30cm thick inside “Eagle
    Crater” and found geological evidence that water had flowed across the
    Martian surface many millions of years ago.The rover spent the next
    nine months driving to and exploring a larger crater called “Endurance”.

    Space support
    the drive from Endurance to Victoria, the rocks told a history of
    shallow lakes, drier periods of shifting dunes and groundwater levels
    that rose and fell. Minerals indicated the ancient water was very
    acidic.Professor Arvidson said mission scientists wanted to compare the
    rock layers at Victoria Crater with those seen so far to see if the
    conditions that created them were different.He mused: “Was there a wet
    environment that was less acidic, perhaps even more habitable? Where do
    the layers from Endurance fit in this thicker sequence?”Nasa’s Mars
    Reconnaissance Orbiter, which reached the Red Planet in March this
    year, will assist the rover’s task by mapping Victoria Crater at high
    resolution from orbit.Spirit and Opportunity had primary missions
    lasting just three months. Though both are showing signs of wear, they
    are roving the Martian surface after more than 30 months.Meridiani
    Planum Image: Nasa Opportunity encountered a rock outcrop resembling a
    cobblestone road on its journey to “Victoria”.

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