Originally destined for a mission of just under 100 days, Mars rover Opportunity has continued to roam the red planet, stunning scientists at NASA with its longevity and amazing discoveries. Opportunity celebrates ten years of exploration on January 25th.
Borrowing the spot light from its younger replacement, Curiosity, Opportunity has once again sent some rather stunning images proving its value is far from diminished. While cruising Murray’s Ridge, Opportunity took this set of images in late December and the second in early January.
In the image, a rock seems to appear in the previously barren bit of ground Opportunity is photographing. According to NASA’s website, the rock – named “Pinnacle Island” – may have been knocked into the cameras range when Opportunity moved briefly to redirect itself, having been dislodged and flipped out by the wheels.
While NASA’s website gives a rather cut and dry opinion as to how and why the rock came into frame, Cornell University Astronomer and principle investigator of Mars Exploration Rover Mission, Steve Squyers, has a second theory as to how this jelly doughnut sized rock appeared. Squyers speculates that a nearby impact, perhaps of a meteor, may have flung the rock into Opportunity’s path.
Regardless of how the rock got there, scientists at NASA are equally excited about how the rock landed. Seeming to be top down, the rock exposes the underside of a martian rock. No big deal until you consider that this rocks underside may not have been exposed to the atmosphere for billions of years. Studies have already shown that the red ” jelly ” center of the rock contains higher levels of sulfur and magnesium than anything else ever studied on the planets surface. NASA scientists are now in hot debate over whether or not this rock may have been hanging around Endeavor Crater way back when the planet may have actually been inhabitable.
Squyers, who was in Pasadena this past week at California’s Institute of Technology to celebrate Opportunity’s decade worth of exploration, had this to say about the new discovery:
“One of the things I like to say is that Mars keeps throwing new things at us. That’s the nature of exploration.”