NASA plans to send a Mars rover down a gully that was carved by fluid that could have been water as part of a two-year extended mission that started on Oct. 1.
The agency said Saturday its team will drive the 12-year-old Opportunity rover down the full length of the gully which is approximately as long as two football fields and half a mile away from the rover’s current location.
“Fluid-carved gullies on Mars have been seen from orbit since the 1970s, but none had been examined up close on the surface before,” said Opportunity Principal Investigator Steve Squyres.
“We hope to learn whether the fluid was a debris flow, with lots of rubble lubricated by water, or a flow with mostly water and less other material,” Squyres added.
NASA wants the rover to explore a portion of the meteor-excavated Endeavour Crater to compare rocks inside the crater to the dominant type of rock that the rover previously examined on the plains.
Squyres said the rover may find sulfate-rich rocks that were formed through a water-related process.
Opportunity will also locate and examine rocks from a geological layer that was in place before a meteor excavated Endeavour Crater, according to the agency.
The rover team might face issues during the two-year mission since Opportunity’s motors and other components have exceeded life expectancy and the rover cannot store data overnight, NASA added.
Opportunity was launched in July 2003 and ended its original mission in April 2004.