Rover shows Mars’s watery past

Ithaca, NY – The Mars Rover Opportunity has ‘reported back’ after two years investigating Victoria Crater on Mars. The data shows more evidence of the planet’s wet, windy and wild past.

The exploration supported previous findings indicating that water once flowed on the planet’s surface, according to Steve Squyres, Cornell professor of astronomy and the principal investigator for NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover mission. The rover is now heading south toward Endeavor Crater, eight and a half miles away.

Many of those observations – of hematite spheres (“blueberries”), sulfate-rich sandstone and small chunks of rock containing kamacite, troilite and other minerals commonly found in meteorites – are consistent with Opportunity’s findings across Meridiani Planum. “It shows that the processes that we investigated in detail for the first time at Endurance Crater are regional in scale, [indicating that] the kinds of conclusions that we first reached at Endurance apply perhaps across Meridiani,” said Squyres.

There are a few key differences, however. The rim of Victoria Crater is about 30m higher than the rim of Endurance, said Squyres; and as the rover drove south toward Victoria the hematite blueberries in the soil became fewer and smaller. Rocks deep inside the crater, however, contained big blueberries – indicating that the rocks higher up had less interaction with water – and thus that the water’s source was probably underground.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the planet in Gusev Crater, Opportunity’s twin rover Spirit is still stuck in a patch of fine Martian soil. “We’re living on borrowed time,” Squyres said of both rovers. “But we’re pushing onward as hard as we can.”