No Fresh Mars Impact Crater Spied Near Opportunity

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Rovers on Mars are never alone.

In this new orbital photograph by the High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on board NASA’s veteran Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), rover Opportunity — another one of NASA’s veteran Mars missions — can be picked out in the landscape of Meridiani Planum. Opportunity is the dot in the center of the image.

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The powerful HiRISE optics also picked out the tenacious rover’s wheel tracks as it made its way around the rim of Endeavour Crater, a 14 mile (22 kilometer) wide feature the six-wheeled robot has been exploring since 2011, to Murray Ridge.

This HiRISE observation was snapped on Feb. 14 and mission scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., were especially interested to have a birds-eye view of the region surrounding Opportunity.

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In January, Mars Exploration Rover principal investigator Steve Squyres announced the bizarre appearance of a rock, nicknamed “Pinnacle Island,” in front of the rover. At the time, there were two ideas as to how the rock got there; either the rover “flipped” the rock as it turned on the spot, or it was fresh ejecta from a nearby meteorite impact. Although Mars is known to be regularly peppered by small meteorites, the latter was deemed unlikely. However, Squyres pointed out, that to resolve the “mystery,” orbital observations would be required.

As this observation shows, there are no obvious signs of an impact crater near Opportunity’s location. This adds an extra level of certainty to the “flipping” theory as to the source of Pinnacle Island.

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Opportunity has just celebrated its 10 year on Mars. Since landing on the Martian surface on Jan. 25, 2004, the rover has driven over 24 miles (38 kilometers). The MRO entered Mars orbit in 2006 and has kept a watchful eye on all of NASA’s surface missions since then, including Opportunity, sister rover Spirit, polar lander Phoenix and Mars’ newest addition the Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity.

For more on this observation and an annotated, high-resoultion version of the image, browse the JPL news release.

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