Mars rover update: September 20, 2016

A quick holiday fund-raising campaign for Behind the Black!
Scroll down to read this post.
In past years I have managed to avoid asking for donations for Behind the Black during the holiday season. My finances however now compel me to do a short one-week fund-raiser, from November 11 to November 17.
I do not use Twitter for ethical reasons, which I have been told cuts down on traffic to the website. So be it. Furthermore, Facebook has clearly acted in the past two years to limit traffic to Behind the Black, almost certainly for political reasons. So be this as well. Finally, I do not post outside ads, as I have found them annoying to my readers and not that profitable to me.


Therefore, I need to ask for the direct support from my readers. If you like what I do here, please consider contributing, either by making a one-time donation or a monthly subscription, as indicated in the tip jar below.


Regular readers can support Behind The Black with a contribution via paypal:

Or with a subscription with regular donations from your Paypal or credit card account:

If Paypal doesn't work for you, you can support Behind The Black directly by sending your donation by check, payable to Robert Zimmerman, to
Behind The Black
c/o Robert Zimmerman
P.O.Box 1262
Cortaro, AZ 85652


Or you could consider purchasing one of my books, as indicated in the boxes scattered throughout the website. My histories of space exploration are award-winning and are aimed for the general public. All are page-turners, and all not only tell the story of the beginning of the human exploration of space, they also help explain why we are where we are today. And I also have a science fiction book available, Pioneer, which tells its own exciting story while trying to predict what life in space will be like two hundred years in the future.


Note that for this week only I am also having a sale on the purchase of the last 20 hardbacks of Leaving Earth. (Click on the link for more information about the book, which was endorsed by Arthur C. Clarke himself!) This award-winning out-of-print book is now only available as an ebook, but I still have a handful of hardbacks available, normally for sale for $70 plus $5 shipping. For this week only you can buy them, personally autographed by me, for $50 plus $5 shipping! Just send me a check, payable to Robert Zimmerman, to the address above, with a note saying that the money is for the Leaving Earth hardback.


Please consider donating. Your help will make it possible for me to continue to be an independent reporter in the field of space, science, technology, and culture.

Opportunity comes first this time because it actually is more interesting.


For the overall context of Opportunity’s travels at Endeavour Crater, see this post, Opportunity’s future travels on Mars.

Having several choices on where to head, the Opportunity science team this week chose took what looks like the most daring route, heading almost due east towards the floor of Endeavour Crater. In fact, a review of their route and the images that the rover continues to take suggests that the panorama I created last week looked almost due east, not to the southeast as I had guessed. I have amended the most recent overhead traverse image, cropped and reduced below, to show what I now think that panorama was showing.

Sol 4493 traverse map

I will readily admit that I am unsure about this. The panorama appears to show four mounds, so that is what I am including. Because it is difficult to judge scale in these images (no scale bar is provided), I think I have been misjudging distances and mound sizes. The panorama shows objects that are farther away and look larger in the overhead traverse image.

This traverse map only shows us the rover’s travels through Sol 4493. The most recent images from Opportunity are dated Sol 4499. During that Martian week it appears the rover has crept closer to the brighter of the two mounds on the hillside before it. Below is a panorama I have created from images taken on Sol 4498, showing this.

Sol 4498 panorama

I have not indicated on the traverse map what this panorama is seeing because I am not sure which mound it is aimed at. I suspect it is second mound from the bottom, but until we have more information on the rover’s actual route since Sol 4493 it is hard to tell. What I can say without doubt is that the rover science team has now taken Opportunity much farther into Endeavour Crater than they had during their exploration of Marathon Valley. I now suspect that they want to explore the region up to the cliff face to the east, which would put them at the inside edge of the crater’s rim and give them ample opportunities (no pun intended) to compare it to the already studied outside edge.


For the overall context of Curiosity’s travels, see this post, Pinpointing Curiosity’s location in Gale Crater.

Curiosity's sample retrieval system

Since last week’s update Curiosity has remained positioned near the southernmost butte of the Murray Buttes area. They have been attempting to drill into a bright feature at the base of this butte, but have had drill issues. The first drill attempt “did not complete as expected.” The second drill attempt completed the drill hole, but then there “was a timing issue during sample manipulation.” (See this page for these updates.) None of these issues appear to be serious technical problems, merely the day-to-day challenges of drilling holes remotely with a robot on another planet millions of miles away. It would be nice however if the scientists making the reports could be clearer about what they mean.

The image on the right, cropped and reduced, provides a nice view of Curiosity’s sampling capture system, including its sieve used to sift out the right sized samples.


One comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *