Catching up on Mars Rovers in 2018

January 8, 2018

Well, it’s been a heavy weekend of reading to catch up on the Mars Rovers Opportunity & Curiosity. The two rovers are active as ever exploring the Red Planet. Two detailed posts from the Planetary Society have kept me busy understanding what these two robots are up to!

Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity

On January 5th, A.J.S. Rayl posted a 2017 review of the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity. And, it was a doozy! I recommend the read if you want to get in to the details of the rover’s operations. But set aside 45 minutes to really get in to it. Opportunity had a pretty cool year and is now taking a daring trip down to the floor of Endeavour Crater.

Every year Opportunity has been exploring Mars has been one of challenges and rewards and 2017 was no exception, except perhaps it was more intense than most. The veteran robot field geologist was scaling the steep, sometimes slippery-with-gravel slopes of Cape Tribulation on her way to the valley when the year began. Now, as 2017 comes to an end, the robot field geologist is deep inside Perseverance and deep into the mission’s research, the centerpiece of the team’s tenth extended mission, looking to go farther back in Martian geologic time and uncover buried scientific treasure.

The post contains some info on Opportunity’s wheel problem, too.

June brought a ‘gloom’ that cast a pall on the mission team. While Opportunity making a basic arc back maneuver to turn, the steering actuator for her left front wheel stalled and she stopped, with that wheel stuck, toed-out 33 degrees.

We talked a little bit about the wheel problem when Mike Seibert came on the show to talk about Opportunity for Episode 29.

If anything, make sure you check out some of the stunning images from the little rover that could. For example, this artistic view processed by Stuart Atkinson really enchants me. Stu is a great follow on Twitter as well, if you want to get stuff like this in your feed regularly.

NASA / JPL-Caltech / Cornell / ASU / S. Atkinson

Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity

Just when I was feeling good about myself for having diligently read through the Opportunity update, Emily Lakdawalla posted a 4 month update on Curiosity the very next day. I found this update really helpful in better understanding Curiosity’s current location, Vera Rubin Ridge. On the first episode of Red Planet Review I mentioned that the MSL rover had returned to an interesting place that had blueish rocks. Emily’s update helped me really get that. This image shows the ridge stretch across the map, with three distinct terraces. The southernmost (highest altitude) terrace has the bluish tinges. Keep in mind that this is false colour, taken in a way to help really spot different rock types.

NASA / JPL / UA / JHUAPL / Emily Lakdawalla

Emily provided some good updates on the drill, which is something she also talked to us about when she joined us to celebrate Curiosity’s 5th birthday on Mars back in Episode 27.

The rover could drill as early as February, potentially, but there are a lot of variables involved (including finding appropriate targets and avoiding Martian gremlins). It’ll happen when it happens, but there appears to be confidence that a return to drilling will happen, so that’s very good news.

I also learned a new geology word: Laminations (or something laminated). It refers to very fine layers in a sedimentary rock. Check out these laminations. Did someone 3D print these rocks?

NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS

All in, these were great updates to kick off 2018. I’m really excited for what these rovers will tell us this year. And I’m particularly excited for whatever updates might be announced at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference this year. Yes, I’ll be attending again! So stay tuned, Martians!


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