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Science File

Rover on the Verge of Martian History

NASA'S Opportunity reaches the crest of a crater whose walls hold clues to the planet's ancient, watery past.

September 30, 2006|John Johnson Jr. | Times Staff Writer

Twenty-one months after landing on the surface of Mars, NASA's rover Opportunity is poised to look deeper into the Red Planet's watery history than ever before.

The rover has reached the crest of 230-foot-deep Victoria Crater, whose exposed rock walls hold secrets of the planet's ancient past, including the time when scientists think shallow pools of water existed on the surface.

"This is a geologist's dream come true," said lead scientist Steve Squyres of Cornell University. "These layers of rock, if we can get to them, will tell us new stories about the environmental conditions long ago."

Opportunity uncovered evidence of surface water in rocks in Eagle Crater in March 2004. Because Victoria is deeper, researchers hope to find out how long the Martian wet period lasted and what caused the planet to dry up.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday October 05, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 32 words Type of Material: Correction
Mars rover: An article in Section A on Saturday about the Mars rover Opportunity reaching Victoria Crater said the craft arrived on Mars 21 months ago. Opportunity landed on Jan. 24, 2004.

Opportunity and its twin, Spirit, were originally designed for a three-month mission, but have lasted 10 times as long. The rovers are operated by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Canada Flintridge.

It took Opportunity 21 months to cover the five miles from Endurance Crater to Victoria, traversing a plain covered with smaller craters, sand ripples and exposed rocks.

Spirit, halfway around the planet in the giant Gusev Crater, is waiting out the winter of southern Mars, tilted north to gather solar energy.

john.johnson@latimes.com

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