With its solar panels their cleanest in years,
Orbital observations of the site by another
"It's like a mineral beacon visible from orbit saying, 'Come check this out,'" said Opportunity Principal Investigator
Some of the most important findings from Opportunity's long mission came from combining CRISM and rover observations of a site about 2 miles (3 kilometers) farther north on the crater's western rim. Rocks exposed there contain evidence for an iron-bearing smectite - called nontronite -- as well as for montmorillonite. That site yielded evidence for an ancient environment with water that would have been well-suited for use by microbes, if Mars had any billions of years ago.
Evidence that Opportunity may add about the geological context for different smectites could boost understanding about diversity and changes in ancient wet environments on Mars.
Opportunity reached the northern end of the montmorillonite-bearing exposure last month, at a high spot called "
"Colin and his team were trying to get to Mars at the same time that we were, and in some ways they faced even greater challenges than we did," Squyres said. "Our team has always had enormous respect for the energy and enthusiasm with which
Though selected as a science destination,
A color view of
Initial measurements at this site with the element-identifying alpha particle X-ray spectrometer at the end of Opportunity's arm indicate that bright-toned veins in the rock contain calcium sulfate. Scientists deduce this mineral was deposited as water moved through fractures on Endeavour's rim. The rover earlier found veins of calcium sulfate farther north along the rim.
As Opportunity investigates this site and sites farther south along the rim, the rover has more energy than usual.
"The solar panels have not been this clean since the first year of the mission," said
Both Opportunity and its rover twin, Spirit, benefited from sporadic dust-cleaning events in past years. However, on the ridge that Opportunity has been navigating since late 2013, winds have removed dust more steadily, day by day, than either rover has experienced elsewhere.
"It's easy to forget that Opportunity is in the middle of a Martian winter right now," said JPL's
The rover's signs of aging -- including a stiff shoulder joint and occasional amnesia events -- have not grown more troublesome in the past year, and no new symptoms have appeared.
During Opportunity's first decade on Mars and the 2004-2010 career of Spirit,
JPL manages the
For more information about Spirit and Opportunity, visit:
You can follow the project on
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