Six years after landing on Mars, our rover Opportunity keeps trekking along. Her most recent find -- a basketball-sized rock -- may harbor clues about the planet's interior.
Matthew Golombek, Mars Exploration Rover Scientist
So Opportunity has been a wildly successful mission. I don't think any of us ever guessed that it would explore the myriad of different terrains and surprises that we've found.
Frank Hartman, Mars Exploration Rover Driver
We landed right in Eagle Crater; that was most of our prime mission or a good fraction of it. We then drove over to Endurance Crater, which was a slightly larger crater. We then spent better part of a couple of years, if I recall correctly, driving down to Victoria Crater and we explored that and that was a yet an even larger crater. And now, we're taking this real challenge to get to Endeavour Crater, which is, you know, so much further than we ever thought the rover would be able to drive.
Endeavour Crater is a very large impact crater much older than any of those we've seen.
And so we still have approx 12-14 kilometers to get to Endeavour.
We were simply driving along, we looked at the images that we had acquired and we saw this dark spot out and we said, "Whoa, that's different!" (Laughter) "Let's go there!" And so we drive to it and investigate it.
Amazingly, we found, you know, 3 or 4 of these meteorites; gigantic chunks of iron just sitting on the surface of Mars.
Two of them are, almost they have what we call cavernous weathering, where the interiors look like they've been eaten out, which is quite common here on the Earth where you have water that infuses and weathers out the interior.
Have they been buried and exhumed? Was there liquid water when it was buried? Was there water at the surface? And these are all the kinds of questions that we're asking.
Then just recently, we found another large rock that was completely different, called "Marquett Island."
We got rid of the weathering rind and measured its composition and it's a very olivine rich basalt. So it's a rock and it has big crystals, so it probably cooled slowly at some depth
And this was some other piece of Mars that had probably gotten blasted off from a meteorite strike, so you know, here's a whole other piece of the planet some where than they can analyze and figure out how it fits in to the whole geological picture of Mars.
I think everybody's stunned that the rovers are still going. I mean you know, it's been repeated you know so many times. Well this was a 90-day mission that we're six years into a 90-day mission.
It's exploration in its truest form. You know, that's what so wonderful about having a rover. If you don't like where you are, go out and go some place else. It's just like if I was walking around somewhere on Earth, except everything takes a bit longer. But at the end of the drive, you get images and you look and you say, "Well, what's the same? What's different? What have we discovered?"
And what's better than having a rover that can do that, while you're here in the comfort of Earth.