Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity may be the only currently operating manmade object on the surface of Mars, but it has friends in high places — very high places, like 270 miles up in orbit!
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been cruising around Mars since March 2006, used its high-resolution HiRISE camera to capture an image of an area called Cape York on the western rim of the 13.5-mile-wide crater Endeavour. There, in the center of the image (conveniently pointed out via a large white arrow, which does not actually exist at Cape York) sits Opportunity, dutifully examining Martian rock formations after recently completing the three-year journey from its previous location.
The shadowed crater at the lower right of the image has been named Odyssey, and the ridge seen curving along the upper left is called Spirit Point, in honor of Opportunity’s now-silent twin stuck in sand half a world away.
Endeavour has been a goal for Opportunity for so long because its exposed rocks and ancient layers visible along its edges will offer an even deeper look into Mars’ geologic past, hopefully providing more clues to the planet’s watery history.
In fact, within mere days of reaching Endeavour’s rim, Opportunity spotted many rock formations that were like nothing it had encountered before, and which exhibited qualities of having been formed in the presence of water. The area called Cape York has tured out to be a veritable rock garden of geologic delights for the Mars Exploration Rover team, and Opportunity has only just begun to explore it!
I’m sure we will be hearing a lot more from Opportunity in the weeks and months to come as it delves further into Mars’ past through the doorway of Endeavour.
You can find out more about NASA’s entire Mars Exploration Program here.
Images credits: Top: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona. Cropped and colored by J. Major. Upper right (full original version) NASA/JPL/University of Arizona. Bottom right: Flat-topped rock named “Tisdale“, color composite by Stuart Atkinson. NASA/JPL-Caltech.
Also, follow along on Opportunity’s adventures at Stu Atkinson’s blog The Road to Endeavour. Lots of great images, maps, 3D anaglyphs and updates to be found there!