Washington: Scientists hope that Greeley Haven, an outcrop of rock on Mars, could provide exciting new discoveries about the watery past of the red planet when NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity will spend the next few months during the coldest part of Martian winter.
The place has been recently named informally to honour ASU Regents’ Professor Ronald Greeley, a planetary geologist who died Oct. 27, 2011.
Long passionate about exploring the solar system and Mars in particular, Greeley was involved with many missions to the Red Planet, including Mariners 6, 7, and 9, Viking, Mars Pathfinder, Mars Global Surveyor, and the two Mars Exploration Rovers.
Opportunity, which landed on Mars eight years ago, has driven a total of 21 miles (34 kilometers). In August, Opportunity arrived at the rim of Endeavour Crater, an ancient impact scar 14 miles (22 km) wide. Eroded sections of the crater’s rim poke above the flat-lying sediments that Opportunity has driven on since it landed.
Located just south of Mars’ equator, the rover has worked through four Martian southern hemisphere winters. Being closer to the equator than its twin rover, Spirit, Opportunity has not needed to stay on a Sun-facing slope during previous winters. Now, however, its solar panels carry a thicker coating of dust than before.
The dust makes it necessary for Opportunity to spend the winter at a Sun-facing site where the rover can tilt its power panels northward about 15 degrees for maximum solar exposure. Greeley Haven provides just the right tilt.
In addition, while Opportunity remains on the slope over winter, it still has some mobility and can investigate Greeley Haven’s multiple targets of scientific interest using with the tools on the rover’s robotic arm.
“Greeley Haven provides the proper tilt, as well as a rich variety of potential targets for imaging and compositional and mineralogic studies,” said Jim Bell, lead scientist for the Panoramic Camera (Pancam) on the rover.
“We’ve already found hints of gypsum in the bedrock in this formation, and we know from orbital data that there are clays nearby, too,” he stated.
Greeley Haven, he said, “looks to be a safe and special place that could yield exciting new discoveries about the watery past of Mars.”