NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity is embarking on the next phase of its study of the Red Planet.
NASA reports that the rover has reached its next assigned destination in Mars’ Perseverance Valley. The valley lies on the inside of the vast rim of Endeavour Crater, and scientists believe the valley may have been carved out by fluids back when Mars hosted liquids on its surface.
“The science team is really jazzed at starting to see this area up close and looking for clues to help us distinguish among multiple hypotheses about how the valley formed,” Matt Golombek of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said.
The valley was likely formed billions of years ago, if not by fluid flow, then possibly by wind erosion. The rover will provide a closer look at the area and evidence of the valley’s past than orbital craft can provide.
The valley is the primary destination of Opportunity’s two-year extended mission. The rover will begin its new trek by taking stereo images of the slope it faces so that mission controllers can analyze a 3D model of the area.
“The long-baseline stereo imaging will be used to generate a digital elevation map that will help the team carefully evaluate possible driving routes down the valley before starting the descent,” John Callas of NASA said.
Opportunity first landed on Mars in 2004 in the Meridiani Planum region. The rover was initially scheduled to operate for three months, during which it found evidence that acidic water once flowed on the Martian surface.
Opportunity has been exploring the Endeavor Crater area and has covered 27.8 miles of ground over the course of its extended missions.