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.
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.
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.
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:
- Science has developed eye drops to give you night vision.
- The science of why male primates grow beards. With a shout-out to hipsters.
- Orangutans make themselves "sound bigger" when sounding alarm calls about nearby predators.
- Fossilized salamanders found in southern Portugal were likely as big as a car.
- A new documentary film on the history and mission of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway will be released in May. [VIDEO]
- This geological map of the UK from 1815 revolutionized our understanding of the world.
- TIL when lightening strikes sand it makes fulgurites.
- Space geeks: all SpaceX photos are now online and in the public domain.
- Physicists have calculated how long it would take you to fall through the center of Earth, and it's four minutes less than before.
- Fascinating physics of how meteorites hitting snow leave vertical structures called "snow carrots" instead of craters.
- Astronauts get stressed too. Here's how they deal with it.
- Time Magazine has created an interactive site to chronicle astronaut Scott Kelly's year long mission in space in contrast to his twin brother, astronaut Mark Kelly, who will stay on Earth.
Keep on geeking!
@Summer_Ash, In-house Astrophysicist