From 90 days to 12 years
As part of the NASA Mars Exploration Rover program, Opportuny was designed for 90 days on Mars.
Today, January 25, the 12th anniversary of work on the surface of the red planet is celebrated. Although there are inevitable signs of aging on the rover, such as a problem with a memory card, it still provides valuable observations and parameters from the Martian surface.
Here is a small set of achievements that were made after landing on the Plateau of Meridian in 2004.
Water and habitat
Although Opportunity was not equipped to search for life, it can find conditions for the existence of life in the past. One of these key elements is water. Opportunity was lucky to find its signs soon after landing in 2004. He found hematite concretions, called blueberries, which are usually formed in the presence of water. He also found traces of jarosite, which is formed in acidic water. Later, Opportunity found inclined geological layers measuring several centimeters, which showed that water flowed over the surface.
The challenge in the study of Mars is that we have observed only a small surface in the vicinity. Most of our observations are made from afar, from orbit. This makes it difficult to answer the question about the presence of methane. Different instruments record its different amounts, which may indicate its biological origin. One of the famous discoveries of Opportuny helped create the first temperature profile of the atmosphere of Mars. This was done in conjunction with the NASA Mars Global Surveyor program, which is now closed. She showed how the warm layers are distributed in the atmosphere, which made it possible to characterize the global weather on Mars. There have been several scientific publications on this topic.
Geology of Mars
Although the search for living conditions in the past and the present remains in the spotlight, it is interesting to learn about other parts of the geology of Mars. How long have volcanoes erupted? When did the craters form? What are the conditions for the formation of various rocks on the surface? Using the Martian climate model and comparisons with the Earth, we can reconstruct the past of the planet.
The main geological discovery of Opportunyni was the discovery on Mars of hematite and jarosite, which indicate the presence of water. In addition, the rover sent every week hundreds of images of geological finds. This allowed for long-term research to understand the red planet.
Opportunity was not made for astronomical observations per se, but from time to time he observed the night sky. A recent example is Comet C / 2013 A1 (McNaught), which flew 139500 kilometers from Mars. Together with other spacecraft, Opportunity gave images of the celestial guest to get more information about the appearance and behavior of comets. In addition, the rover was used to observe the satellites of Mars, Phobos and Deimos in the sky. The ground to the rover was also clearly visible.
Preparing for people
When the rovers went to Mars, NASA embarked on a program to bring people to Mars in the 2030s. And, although the program was canceled, NASA continues to work today on the Orion spacecraft, which will prepare people for work on Mars.
Most of the possible future problems were shown in the film "Martian". It is known that an analogue of Opportuny called Spirit died in a sand trap. Opportunity, too, stuck in the sand for a month, but successfully got out, thanks to the help of NASA. The rover's engineering data tells scientists how well the wheels work in the sand, how the lubricant works at low temperatures, and how the solar panels work.