Mars Exploration Opportunity Heads Toward 2017 And Its 13th Anniversary

First Posted: Jan 06, 2017 02:06 AM EST

The Mars Rovers mission is closing in on its 13th anniversary on the Red Planet, and Opportunity is working its way to the first ascent on the rim of the Endeavor Crater. Its goal is to get to the other side of the rim and onto the flatter terrain on the planet. From there, it would cruise south to Cape Byron for scientists to finally begin their research.

NASA noted that as of sols 4576 to 4582 (Dec. 7, 2016 to Dec. 13, 2016), the rover has emphasized navigating through the most challenging terrains. Mars Exploration Rover (MER) Principal Investigator Steve Squyres of Cornell University said, "This is the toughest sustained climb Opportunity's ever done in nearly 13 years on Mars."

MER scientists also believed that the galley, which serves as the center for Opportunity's 10th mission, was carved by water during the Noachian Period about 3.7 to 4 billion years ago. This led them to believe that Mars is similar to Earth in many aspects, with lakes, rivers and, at some point, an ocean. As Opportunity continues its trek around Mars, scientists continue to learn more about the Earth's mysterious neighbor.

Of course, Opportunity should not be the only one celebrating its 13th anniversary on Mars. Its twin, Spirit, actually landed earlier, on Jan. 3, 2004, and together they were tasked to hunt for signs of the water activity in very different parts of the Red Planet .

To say that Spirit is celebrating its 13th year on Mars may be a stretch, though. As noted, Spirit was bogged down on Martian sand in April 2009 and was not able to re-orient its solar panel back to track the Sun through the winter. This means that sadly, Spirit essentially froze to death while its twin lived on.

From the first sol to the completion of Spirit's and Opportunity's 90-day primary missions, team members roving Mars have become emboldened in their research. Steve Squyres shared, "Every day on Mars is a gift."

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