Dottore Graziano (antoniseb) wrote,
Dottore Graziano

Mars Opportunity Rover Hits 30K

Here is a map of Opportunity (the MER Rover on Mars)'s recent past and near future travels. This is a huge image (maybe 4000x5000 pixels).

To the left is a small excerpt. The rover is moving along quite quickly these days, having traveled more than 3 km in less than 60 days. It is currently traveling through a relatively uninteresting salt flat, much like turf it's covered for the last few years.

About 3 km ahead (2.4 km East, and 1.8 km South, a wiggly hypotenuse should be a little over 3 km) are some hills that were pushed up when a 10km diameter crater was formed about 4 billion years ago (a guess). So after seven and a half years on a dry salt lake bed, Oppy will get some elevation. Insiders are saying it'll get there by August or September depending on how interesting the dirt in the last hundred meters before the hill is, and barring electromechanical difficulties.

We are now about six months until the launch of the next Mars Rover (The Mars Science Laboratory). Back when we were flush, NASA thought we'd be sending probes to Mars every two years, but most of them were things that attracted less public attention than the rovers. Remember the Polar Lander, and the MRO with the big orbiting camera? There was also a skipped alignment for budget and technology reasons.The MSL is powered by a mostly harmless Plutonium isotope that gives off Alpha particles, which it recaptures and turns their motion energy into heat. The heat difference from inside and outside is used to create electricity. As a positive about this choice, the MLS can keep going during dust storms, and can work in shadows (like you might get in deep canyons). As a negative, this isotope was created heavily during the cold war. We're making much less of it these days, and are running out.

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