Opportunity Rover Snaps Gorgeous Panoramas of Santa Maria Crater and Intrepid Crater

By Ken Kremer

The Opportunity rover is sending back a multitude of awesome views of Santa Maria Crater since arriving at the western edge on Dec. 15 (Sol 2450).   This intermediate stop on the rover’s 19 km long journey from Victoria Crater to giant 14 km wide Endeavor Crater certainly looks to be well worth the trip.

Santa Maria is just 6 km from the western rim of Endeavour which is surrounded by phyllosilicate clays – which formed in water and have never before been directly analyzed on the Martian surface.

Opportunity has been on a swift advance over smooth terrain since departing from Intrepid crater in mid-November which was named in honor of the Apollo 12 mission which landed two men on the moon 41 years ago in November 1969.

Intrepid Crater

Opportunity arrived at ‘Intrepid’ Crater on Mars during November 2010 and drove around crater rim. See rover wheel tracks at left. Intrepid crater was named in honor of the Apollo 12 lunar module named 'Intrepid' – which landed two men on the moon on 19 November 1969. Mosaic Credit: Kenneth Kremer, Marco Di Lorenzo NASA/JPL/Cornell

Santa Maria appears to be relatively unweathered and fresh.  The crater is 90 meters in diameter.  A multitude of inviting rocks and boulders from the impact ejecta are strewn about making this a Martian geologists dream.

After initially driving to a distance of about five meters from the rim on Dec. 16 (Sol 2451), Opportunity has now carefully crawled even nearer to the precipice of the craters steep cliffs.   The rover snaps a series of panoramic images at each stop to document the site scientifically and esthetically.

The team back on Earth must tread with extreme caution as Opportunity creeps ever closer to the edge lest she fall off a cliff.  Opportunity is now positioned close enough to point her cameras directly at the steep walled cliffs and towards the sand dunes at the crater floor unveiling another stunningly gorgeous Martian vista.

Panoramic view of Santa Maria Crater

Panoramic view of Santa Maria Crater taken by Opportunity Mars rover about 5 meters from the rim on Dec 16, 2010 on Sol 2451. Water bearing materials are located at the southeastern edge of the rim located roughly at the center of this image. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell, Kenneth Kremer, Marco Di Lorenzo

Compare the panoramic mosaics from Sols 2451 and 2454 above and below – created by Ken Kremer and Marco Di Lorenzo  for Universe Today – as Opportunity pulled up to the rim in stages and began exploring the crater environment from different vantage points.

Santa Maria Crater - Sol 2454

Opportunity drove closer to within 5 meters of the rim on Sol 2454 and snapped this gorgeous panoramic vista revealing interior steep cliffs and sand dunes. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell, Marco Di Lorenzo, Kenneth Kremer

The rover handlers are highly adept at precisely maneuvering the 175 kg vehicle back and forth inside the danger zone at crater rims. After all Opportunity has been on a crater tour for her entire 7 year extended mission to the red planet and controllers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) have honed their driving techniques at countless locales both treacherous and dazzling.

High priority activity on the west side of Santa Maria includes collecting a series of high resolution stereo panoramas which will be used to create a digital elevation map in 3D.   JPL engineers will move Opportunity in a counterclockwise direction around the rim before heading to Endeavour crater.

Opportunity will drive to an area on the southeast portion of Santa Maria that shows exposures of water bearing sulfate.

Opportunity will stay at Santa Maria through the upcoming Solar conjunction which starts in late January and ends in mid-February.  The rover will remain stationary during that period and conduct a lengthy investigation of a specific spot using the instruments on the robotic arm – which include spectrometers, a microscope and the rock drill known as the RAT or Rock Abrasion Tool

Opportunity remains healthy, has abundant solar power for the final leg of the eastward march to Endeavor and celebrates 7 years on Mars on 24 Jan 2011.

More details in my articles online at Universe Today: http://www.universetoday.com/81838/opportunity-shoots-awesome-views-of-santa-maria-crater/



Ken Kremer:  Spaceflight magazine  & The Planetary Society
Please contact me for more info or science outreach presentations at  kremerken@yahoo.com or my website:  www.kenkremer.com

This entry was posted in January 2011, Sidereal Times and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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