On Thursday January 23, 2014, in Pasadena California, NASA scientists held a conference at 11:AM (PST), to discuss the past and future rover missions of the Martian planet Mars. Since the first missions to Mars, the planet’s rover discoveries has given earth bound scientists powerful insights, excellent photographs and finding past habitual zones, that indeed supported minerals essential to life here on Earth. Especially since the planet has a history of giving humanity more than bargained.
The first Mars rover, Opportunity, has exceeded its three month expectations, providing earthlings with groundbreaking data for over ten years. After being deployed into Mars, Opportunity’s inflated fortress of balls bounced the rover perfectly inside a crater. NASA has since coined its landing as a hole in one.
After just only a few weeks after landing, Opportunity already began producing viable data when it stumbled upon iron-rich spherules. Scientists believe these spherules, known as hematite, are the result of water-born minerals settling into sedimentary rock. The rover also discovered signs that water flowed or percolated through the martian surface. In 2011, it discovered bright veins of gypsum, deposited by water billions of years ago outlining the rim of the Endeavor crater. The rim of this special landing spot has been since known as Matijevic Hill, containing clay minerals, giving NASA scientists their first look at a chemistry that would of been suitable for life.
In 2005 during its expedition, Opportunity discovered a rock, described as basketball-size, composed of iron and nickel. It was the first time a meteorite was ever discovered on another world and continues finding them today.The rover has also provided NASA the first photographs of Earth-like clouds in the Martian sky.
NASA scientists held their conference partly in response to its past, but more so about recent events and the future of the mars rovers. Opportunity photographed a mysterious rock, or “Jelly Donut” as NASA scientists have playfully named it. The dark ambiguous rock still has no explanation, scientists believe it may have been picked up by the robot itself, while digging through sandstone formations on the rim of the Endeavor crater.
The rover now operates on a special area of the rim known as Cape York, the eastern side of the crater that seemed eroded. Scientists had believed this area may reveal intriguing minerals, hinting at compounds of smectite, a type of clay that forms when wet conditions are present; and sure enough they were right.
NASA and their rover, which was predicted to last three months, discovered an abundance of smectite along with calcium sulfate deposits. It is now evident that water traces are indisputable, and have formed in neutral habitual zones, separate from the highly acidic environment or the reactive oxidants found in sandstone.
The Martian planet in some places and for some period of time was seemingly hospitable, however, Opportunity is not equipped to search for life directly, nor has it the tools to detect traces of organisms or bacteria. This is the job of NASA’s next mission rover, Mars 2020, in addition to Curiosity. NASA scientists held a conference today to discuss the future and past of the Mars rovers. Topics ranging from the anticipated launch date of Mars 2020, and the rewarded 65 million dollars in research funding from congress, while celebrating Opportunity’s ten years of service.
By Zane Foley