NASA picks spot for Martian rover’s winter break

NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity is set to ride out the worst of the Martian winter at Greeley Haven, a rocky outcrop recently named after ASU Regents’ Professor Ronald Greeley, a planetary geologist who died last October.

The site, on the rim of Endeavour Crater, has been picked because of its angle to the sun: Opportunity needs to recharge its solar panels. While it hasn’t needed to hide out on a sun-facing slope in previous winters, its solar panels are now dusty, meaning it needs as much exposure to the sun as possible.

At Greeley Haven, it’ll be able to tilt the panels northward about 15 degrees, giving just the right angle.

In addition, Opportunity will still to a certain extent be able to get around, and will investigate various targets using the tools on its robotic arm.

Plans for the winter include a radio-science investigation of the interior of Mars, inspections of mineral compositions and textures on the outcrop, and recording a full-circle, color panorama.

“Greeley Haven provides the proper tilt, as well as a rich variety of potential targets for imaging and compositional and mineralogic studies,” says Steven Squyres, chief scientist for the Mars Exploration Rover project.

“We’ve already found hints of gypsum in the bedrock in this formation, and we know from orbital data that there are clays nearby, too.”

Although they’re seriously eroded, the raised sections of Endeavour’s rim contain rocks that date back much farther into Martian history than have before been examined.

Greeley Haven “looks to be a safe and special place that could yield exciting new discoveries about the watery past of Mars,” says Bell.