NASA's Mars Rover and Orbiter Team Examines Victoria Crater
NASA's long-lived robotic rover Opportunity is beginning to explore layered rocks
in cliffs ringing the massive Victoria crater on Mars.
While Opportunity spent its first week at the crater, NASA's newest eye in the Martian
sky photographed the rover and its surroundings from above. The level of detail
in the photo from the high-resolution camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
will help guide the rover's exploration of Victoria.
"This is a tremendous example of how our Mars missions in orbit and on the
surface are designed to reinforce each other and expand our ability to explore
and discover," said Doug McCuistion, director of NASA's Mars Exploration Program
in Washington. "You can only achieve this compelling level of exploration capability
with the sustained exploration approach we are conducting at Mars through integrated
orbiters and landers."
Image right: An image from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity near the rim of "Victoria Crater." Image credit: NASA/JPL/UA + Full image and caption
"The combination of the ground-level and aerial view is much more powerful than either
alone," said Steve Squyres of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y. Squyres is principal
investigator for Opportunity and its twin, Spirit. "If you were a geologist driving
up to the edge of a crater in your jeep, the first thing you would do would be to pick
up the aerial photo you brought with you and use it to understand what you're seeing
from ground level. That's exactly what we're doing here."
Images from NASA's Mars Global Surveyor, orbiting the red planet since 1997, prompted
the rover team to choose Victoria two years ago as the long-term destination for
Opportunity. The images show the one-half-mile-wide crater has scalloped edges of
alternating cliff-like high, jutting ledges and gentler alcoves. The new image by the
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter adds significantly more detail.
Exposed geological layers in the cliff-like portions of Victoria's inner wall appear to
record a longer span of Mars' environmental history than the rover has studied in smaller
craters. Victoria is five times larger than any crater Opportunity has visited during
its Martian trek.
High-resolution color images taken by Opportunity's panoramic camera since Sept. 28 reveal
previously unseen patterns in the layers. "There are distinct variations in the sedimentary
layering as you look farther down in the stack," Squyres said. "That tells us environmental
conditions were not constant."
Image left: This view of "Victoria crater" from Opportunity is looking southeast from "Duck Bay" towards the dramatic promontory called "Cabo Frio." Image credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell + Full image and caption
Within two months after landing on Mars in early 2004, Opportunity found geological evidence
for a long-ago environment that was wet. Scientists hope the layers in Victoria will provide
new clues about whether that wet environment was persistent, fleeting or cyclical.
The rovers have worked on Mars for more than 10 times their originally planned three-month
missions. "Opportunity shows a few signs of aging but is in good shape for undertaking
exploration of Victoria crater," said John Callas, project manager for the rovers at
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
"What we see so far just adds to the excitement. The team has worked heroically for
nearly 21 months driving the rover here, and now we're all rewarded with views of a
spectacular landscape of nearly 50-foot-thick exposures of layered rock," said Jim Bell
of Cornell. Bell is lead scientist for the rovers' panoramic cameras. NASA plans to drive
Opportunity from crater ridge to ridge, studying nearby cliffs across the intervening
alcoves and looking for safe ways to drive the rover down. "It's like going to the Grand
Canyon and seeing what you can from several different overlooks before you walk down," Bell said.
The orbiter images will help the team choose which way to send Opportunity around the rim,
and where to stop for the best views. Conversely, the rover's ground-level observations of
some of the same features will provide useful information for interpreting orbital images.
"The ground-truth we get from the rover images and measurements enables us to better
interpret features we see elsewhere on Mars, including very rugged and dramatic terrains
that we can't currently study on the ground," said Alfred McEwen of the University of
Arizona, Tucson. He is principal investigator for the orbiter's High Resolution
Imaging Science Experiment camera.
JPL manages the rovers and orbiter for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. JPL is a
division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.
For images and information about the rovers, visit:
For images and information about the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, visit:
Media contacts: Guy Webster /Natalie Godwin 818-354-6278/0850
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
Dwayne Brown/Erica Hupp 202-358-1726/1237
NASA Headquarters, Washington