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Mars Rover begins mountain climbing



NASA's Mars rover Opportunity captured this southward uphill view after beginning to ascend the northwestern slope of "Solander Point" on the western rim of Endeavour Crater. The view combines five frames taken by Opportunity's navigation camer (NASA/JPL-Caltech)


NASA's Opportunity Mars rover has started scaling the tallest hill it has yet encountered in its nearly 10 years of Red Planet exploration.

Opportunity is working its way up "Solander Point," the northern tip of a 130-foot-tall hill on the rim of Mars' Endeavour Crater. The rover is currently studying rocky outcrops that lie between 6.5 feet and 20 feet above the surrounding plains, and it may climb higher in the coming days and weeks, NASA officials said.

"This is our first real Martian mountaineering with Opportunity," Opportunity principal investigator Steve Squyres, of Cornell University, said in a statement. "We expect we will reach some of the oldest rocks we have seen with this rover ? a glimpse back into the ancient past of Mars."

The Opportunity rover began climbing Solander Point on Oct. 8 and has gone higher and higher on three additional drives since then, mission officials said. The rocks in Solander's upper reaches are older than those below because they were lifted up by the impact event that created Endeavour Crater.


Opportunity arrived at Solander Point in August after a long drive from another part of Endeavour's rim called "Cape York," where the rover worked for 20 very productive months. Mission scientists have high hopes for Solander as well.

"At Cape York, we found fantastic things," Squyres said. "Gypsum veins, clay-rich terrain, the spherules we call newberries. We know there are even larger exposures of clay-rich materials where we're headed. They might look like what we found at Cape York, or they might be completely different."

During its time in the Solander area, Opportunity has already studied a transition zone between two geological formations, the younger of which records evidence of a wet but very acidic ancient environment. Further study of the older rocks could shed light on when conditions changed, mission scientists said.


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I still find it amazing that we have a machine on another planet sending us back information on it.

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