Opportunity report by A.J.S. Rayl, The Planetary Society

20170104_2Opportunity-MarathonValley-Gully-map-pia20854-ci_jpg_copyJanuary 4, 2017: Opportunity Wraps 2016, Heads into 2017 Toward 13th Anniversary: As 2016 came to an end and 2017 rang in, Opportunity was working the first leg of the ascent up the rugged western rim of Endeavour Crater on her way to an ancient gully, the next scientific tour de force down the road, and the Mars Exploration Rovers (MER) mission was closing in on its 13th anniversary of surface operations coming up in the New Year.

The veteran robot field geologist has been making her way across and up the rocky slopes of the crater rim at Cape Tribulation since leaving Spirit Mound in November. The objective is to get to the other side of the rim and onto the flatter terrain of the Meridiani Plains that surround Endeavour’s rim. From there, the rover can cruise south to Cape Byron and enter the gully from the top, right where the MER scientists want to begin their research.

Facing steep, slippery slopes and boulder fields, Opportunity navigated through some of the most challenging terrain she has ever attempted in December, demonstrating her right robot stuff every rove of the way.

“Getting up the rim is difficult stuff,” said MER Principal Investigator Steve Squyres, of Cornell University. “This is the toughest sustained climb Opportunity’s ever done in nearly 13 years on Mars.”

The MER scientists believe that the gully, which is the centerpiece of Opportunity’s tenth mission extension science campaign, was carved by water during the Noachian Period some 3.7 to 4 billion years ago. This is the epoch when many planetary scientists believe Mars was more like Earth, with lakes, rivers, and perhaps even an ocean. Research at this site will mark the first time any surface mission has studied an ancient Martian gully this old up close. Whatever the rover finds, it will make history. But the first order of business is getting up and over the rim. [More at link]

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