April 4, 2017: Opportunity dodges dust storms, makes tracks to Perseverance Valley: After wrapping the final science investigations on the slopes of Cape Tribulation, Opportunity climbed up and over the rim of Endeavour Crater in March and embarked on the journey south toward the next, much anticipated science attraction in the overland expedition of the Mars Exploration Rovers (MER) mission, an ancient gully the team named Perseverance Valley.
“Right now we are in the business of making wheel tracks and that’s what we’re going to be doing until we get to Perseverance Valley,” said MER Principal Investigator Steve Squyres, of Cornell University.
Although the ancient site is located just about a half-mile away inside the western rim of Endeavour at Cape Byron, the veteran robot field geologist exited the crater to get onto more rover friendly terrain near the Meridiani Plains to make faster progress. Once Opportunity arrives at Cape Byron, maybe as early as June, she will climb back up, over, and into the rim to enter Perseverance Valley.
As far as the MER scientists are concerned, the rover can’t get there soon enough. While, the team selected some waypoints along the route south in its extended mission plan, Opportunity likely won’t be stopping at any one of them for long. “We’re on the road again and taking the express route,” said MER Deputy Principal Investigator Ray Arvidson, of Washington University St. Louis. “It’s drive, drive, drive, and remote sensing.”
Perseverance Valley promises to be one of most significant geological features that the MER mission will visit. That’s because, like Endeavour Crater, it appears to date back to the Noachian Period some 3 to 4 billion years ago, when the Red Planet looked more like Earth. In that epoch Mars was pummeled by meteorites and asteroids and most all planetary scientists believe it featured abundant surface water, perhaps even an ocean.
Opportunity is the only rover to travel this far back in geological time on Mars and the first to study a feature like Perseverance Valley, so it’s a big deal and a significant location for the team’s research. “We will be exploring an ancient Noachian Period gully where no one else has ever gone,” said Squyres. “And that’s pretty cool.” [More at link]