Week in Geek: Martian marathon edition

An artist's concept portrays a NASA Mars Exploration Rover on the surface of Mars.

This past week, NASA’s Opportunity rover on Mars hit a major milestone: a marathon. Launched in July of 2003, Opportunity has been on the surface of the Red Planet since January 2004, well over a decade, shattering its design mission lifetime of just 90 days.

A map of the travel of NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity

Okay, so maybe 11 years and two months is a bit of a marathon record in a bad way, but you try working long days over 35 million miles from home, in temperature ranges of 170 degrees Fahrenheit, being blasted by solar radiation and occasional dust storms. I bet your marathon pace would be a bit off too.

Opportunity’s sister rover, Spirit, launched at the same time and operating on the opposite side of the planet, also blew through its design mission and lasted an extra five years before getting one of its wheels stuck in a sand trap in May of 2009. Communications with Spirit ended in 2010.

The small spherules on the Martian surface in this close-up image are near Fram Crater, visited by NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity during April 2004.

During its time on Mars, Opportunity has discovered multiple lines of evidence for the existence of liquid water on Mars in days past including: spherules and hematite. With the data collected during Opportunity’s primary mission, NASA scientists concluded that the area the rover landed in was most likely once the coastline of a Martian sea.

Currently, over 26.2 miles from its landing site, Opportunity is in what has now been dubbed “Marathon Valley” on the edge of Endeavor Crater. Scientists are investigating a ridgeline of rocks unlike any others previously seen on Mars.

This panorama is the view NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity gained from the top of the "Cape Tribulation" segment of the rim of Endeavour Crater, the week of Jan. 6, 2015.

In solidarity with Opportunity and to celebrate this amazing feat, engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) working on the rover are planning to do a marathon relay sometime soon. You can check on the current status of Opportunity anytime on JPL’s Mars Rover website.

And now for some more geek from the week:

Keep on geeking!

@Summer_Ash, In-house Astrophysicist

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Week in Geek: Martian marathon edition