Mars Rover Inspects Beagle Crater
Opportunity Mars rover has rolled up to Beagle Crater, a relatively young feature. The robot continues to slog its way toward the larger Victoria Crater at Meridiani Planum. Image
Credit: NASA/JPL

Those industrious robots on Mars--NASA's Spirit and Opportunity rovers--remain on duty as they gather new science data from their respective spots on the red planet.

Opportunity has just concluded a survey of Beagle Crater, a relatively young feature, said William Farrand, a research scientist at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado. He is also a member of the Mars Exploration Rover science team.

Farrand told SPACE.com that Beagle is named after the ship, H.M.S. Beagle, that naturalist Charles Darwin served on. Over the weekend, Opportunity's Panoramic Camera was busy collecting a color sweep of Beagle Crater and its blanket of tossed out material.

"So that should make for a pretty spectacular data product when all the full frame scenes are finally downlinked," Farrand said. In addition, Opportunity ground handlers snagged multispectral views of the scene. In addition, by using the robot's Miniature Thermal Emission Spectrometer (Mini-TES), data on the mineralogy of rocks and soils at Beagle was obtained, he said.

Opportunity will next be examining a banded ripple and then resume its drive towards Victoria crater, Farrand said. The 115-foot (35-meter) Beagle Crater and the rover are both about 1,837 feet (560 meters) from the rim of Victoria.

Victoria Crater is nearly half a mile (800 meters) in diameter. That's nearly six times wider than Endurance Crater, the feature that Opportunity explored for several months in 2004 studying rock layers affected by ancient water.

Onward...to Victoria

"Everybody on the team is pretty excited about the prospect of getting to Victoria crater," Farrand added. When the robot pulls up to that feature, scientists are expecting to see something like 65 feet (20 meters) of stratigraphic section exposed on the walls within Victoria. 

"That will give us a deeper view into the past history of Meridiani Planum than we got at Endurance crater or any of the other craters examined to date on the mission," Farrand explained.

While the slogging has been slow, Opportunity's arrival at Beagle Crater is good news to Larry Crumpler, a member of the Mars rover science team. He is also research curator in volcanology and space sciences at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science in Albuquerque.

Beagle appears to be a fairly well-preserved little impact crater, Crumpler said, "kind of a mini-Endurance."

Crumpler said that scientists may be having one of the last chances to view the upper meter of the bedrock before the Mars rover gets into the dark apron material around Victoria. "Just in case that is a mantling material, this is a good place to have a good look at rocks."

Spirit's winter haven

Meanwhile, the Spirit Mars rover at Gusev Crater is undergoing a winter check-up. All of the robot's cameras are being evaluated. So far, everything appears well with the Mars machinery as it performs a winter science campaign of observations on the red planet.

On August 8, Spirit saw the shortest day, the winter solstice in Mars' southern hemisphere.

Spirit has finished acquiring images for the "McMurdo panorama" a full-color, 360-degree view of the rover's winter haven within the Columbia Hills in Gusev Crater.

That set of frame-by-frame images from the robot's panoramic camera--as with all scientific data taken during this time period--has required extra time to complete. That's due to the Sun now lower on the horizon, resulting in reduced solar power levels available to Spirit.

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