Fresh Look At A Martian ‘Hole-in-One’

The bright landing platform left behind by NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity in 2004 is visible inside Eagle Crater in this April 8, 2017, photo made by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). The interior yellow arc are exposed sedimentary rocks inside Eagle (see photo at end of story). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

A new photo taken by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) captures the landing platform the rover Opportunity left behind in Eagle Crater more than 13 years and 27 miles (44 km) ago, the distance the rover has traveled since landing on Jan. 25, 2004.  The long-lived rover arrived bundled in an airbag-cushioned lander that bounced and tumbled until coming to rest at the center of a 72-foot-wide (22 meter) crater named Eagle.

In this wider view, the protective backshell and parachute are seen to the southwest of the lander. These were jettisoned just prior to landing on Jan. 25, 2004. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

The wider scene below includes Eagle Crater and Opportunity’s nearby parachute and backshell, from an April 8, 2017 photo also by the orbiter using its high-resolution camera. The photos are the first color pictures taken of the scene. The MRO began orbiting Mars more than two years after Opportunity’s landing. One of the first images from the orbiter in 2006 showed Opportunity at the rim of a much larger crater, Victoria, nearly 4 miles (about 6 km) south of the landing site. Another was a black and white of Eagle Crater.

Opportunity — seen here as a tiny dot — pauses near the rim of Victoria Crater on October 3, 2006 in this photo taken by NASA’s MRO. Click for a high-resolution photo. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The few and small craters on a broad plain makes it even more amazing expressed that Opportunity achieved a “hole-in-one” landing. When the lander’s petals opened and Opportunity sent home its first look at its surroundings, it provided the first-ever close-by view of sedimentary rocks on Mars along the crater’s rim. After leaving the lander and exploring Eagle Crater, the rover recorded a look-back view before departing the scene.

Opportunity took multiple photos to get this panoramic view of Eagle Crater and its lander. The sedimentary rocks referred to in the blog can be seen near the crater’s rim in the background. Click to see the full panorama. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Incredibly, Opportunity remains active more than 13 years later. It recently departed Cape Tribulation, a segment of the rim of Endeavour Crater it’s been studying since 2014, and is now making its way (appropriately) to Perseverance Valley. The rover team wants to find out how the two-football-field-long valley was carved whether by water, wind or flowing debris lubricated by water. Onward little robot!