After a very long journey, NASA's second Mars exploration rover has finally reached what NASA's John Callas says is arguably its most important science target since landing on Mars. The little six-wheeled rover named Opportunity has rambled over the Martian landscape to arrive at a crater called Endeavor. The crator is located near the planet's equator.
One Crazy Crater
Endeavour is the fourth Mars crater that Opportunity will explore. It is by far the most massive, at 14 miles in diameter. Endeavor was created when a very large object - such as an asteroid or comet - collided with the surface of Mars. Because Endeavor is such a large crater, Opportunity will get to explore the oldest rock deposits that scientists have yet seen on Mars.
"We will likely spend years at this location," says Callas. "What a destination. It's not just one spot. There's kilometers of interesting geology to explore."
Opportunity will spend several months taking pictures of the rim and interior of the crater. Then the rover will travel south along the rim while looking for clay minerals that are thought to form under wet conditions.
A Long Trip
Opportunity was first parachuted to the surface of Mars in 2004. The rover was first scheduled to complete a three-month mission. Another rover named Spirit was sent to the opposite side of Mars. While Spirit's journey ended over a year ago after it became trapped in sand, Opportunity continued to chug along. To pay tribute to the Spirit rover, the exact spot along the rim of Endeavor that Opportunity reached was named Spirit Point.
The Endeavour crater will likely be the rover's final destination. But Opportunity has proven in the past that it can last beyond its expected lifetime. After all, it has continued to function effectively 30 times longer than originally planned.
Reaching Endeavor has been Opportunity's goal ever since it finished exploring the Victoria crater in August 2008. Because the rover moves at only two inches per second, it took Opportunity three years to complete the approximately seven-mile trip between the two craters.