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Mars NASA Space Science

NASA Mars Rover Opportunity Grinds "Cool" Rock 70

Posted by timothy
from the dude-that-is-far-out dept.
coondoggie writes "While its sister rover Spirit has garnered most of the attention lately, NASA's other Mars traveler, Opportunity, is chewing up Martian dirt and unearthing the mineral and chemical makeup of the red planet. NASA scientists said this week the rover uncovered 'one of the coolest things Opportunity has found in a very long time:' a dark, basketball-sized rock known as 'Marquette Island.' According to NASA, the Marquette Island rock is a coarse-grained rock that indicates it cooled slowly from molten rock, allowing crystals time to grow. Such composition suggests it originated deep in the crust, not at the surface where it would cool quicker and have finer-grained texture, NASA stated."
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NASA Mars Rover Opportunity Grinds "Cool" Rock

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  • Unearthing? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Scutter (18425) on Friday January 22, 2010 @06:39AM (#30858144) Journal

    Opportunity is chewing up Martian dirt and unearthing the mineral and chemical makeup of the red planet.

    Shouldn't that be "unmarsing"?

  • Opportunity Rocks (Score:3, Informative)

    by smitty777 (1612557) on Friday January 22, 2010 @06:50AM (#30858208) Journal

    The Opportunity is a pretty awesome vehicle. It has outperformed its mission expectations by over 200% - it is in the fifth year of what was supposed to be a 90 sol mission. It takes pretty impressive panoramic pictures as well [wikimedia.org].

    • Thats 20 times the expected lifetime [wolframalpha.com].

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by shabtai87 (1715592)
        They usually tell engineers to over-engineer, when in doubt, but props to these guys for taking it to the next level!
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          I suspect that it is very hard to beat space travel when it comes to a truly lopsided ratio between (cost of design + cost of shipping) on the one hand and cost of construction on the other.
          • I agree - especially when you have to assume that it's basically on a self-contained one-way mission. The odds of us being able to perform repairs or rescues are non-existent for now. I think they did a great job of making it as self sufficient as possible.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by GooberToo (74388)

          This actually isn't a question of over engineering. The only reason we are getting so much life out of these units is because something most unexpected happened early in the life of the rovers once on Mars. The surprising fact is, dust has not been settling on the solar arrays, which would otherwise prevent the units from recharging. From day one, everyone expected dust to settle on the solar arrays where over time this would eventually completely cut off power to the units. They expected this to happen wit

          • My understanding is that the dust has been collecting, but the wind has been unexpectedly cleaning them.

            • by GooberToo (74388)

              Right. Because they expected the dust to statically bond to the panels. That didn't happen so the wind is able to keep them fairly dust free.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by smitty777 (1612557)

        Silly humanoid - did you measure using martian time (sols?)

      • by PopeRatzo (965947) *

        Thats 20 times the expected lifetime [wolframalpha.com].

        And I still have to plug my iPhone in every night.

        They can put a rover on mars that lasts 5 years, but I still can't get a decent battery for a phone that gives me a week of regular use.

        • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

          by moondawg14 (1058442)
          If you'd be willing to accept some Opportunity-sized solar panels, we could remedy that for you.
        • by Skater (41976)
          Well, attach some huge solar panels [wikipedia.org] to your iPhone.
        • by Wizzu (30521)

          I used to have a Nokia phone (6320 IIRC, US model naming may be different) that lasted well over a week with one charge. Of course that dropped with the years, but it was still several days at the point when I replaced it.

          I would imagine similar phones are readily available these days too.

          Oh, did you want a phone with web browsing, GPS etc.? Those things drain a lot more power... Still, even for them, I imagine it would be possible to put some super-efficient batteries that would enable long-lasting battery

      • by Aeros (668253)
        but was that a 90 earth day mission or 90 mars day mission? Either day yes we have definitely gotten our tax dollars worth of cost out of them.
    • The Opportunity is a pretty awesome vehicle. It has outperformed its mission expectations by over 200% - it is in the fifth year of what was supposed to be a 90 sol mission. It takes pretty impressive panoramic pictures as well [wikimedia.org].

      So how would one go about printing out that panorama? I want to frame that and put it on my wall, that's how badass it is.

    • In other news (Score:3, Interesting)

      by celtic_hackr (579828)
      NASA uncovers volcanic rock on a planet with the Solar System's largest volcano (Mons Olympus). Scientists say it must have come from deep inside the planet and could not have formed on the surface. Scientists get all giddy. Film at 11. Call me crazy, but why didn't they just state it came from a volcanic eruption? And how do they know it's not a meteor? Why all the drama. Sure it's cool to find volcanic rocks, or any new kind of rock, especially on Mars, but why all the mystery and misdirection? Why can't
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by SWPadnos (191329)

        From the article:

        According to NASA the Marquette Island rock is a coarse-grained rock that indicates it cooled slowly from molten rock, allowing crystals time to grow. Such composition suggests it originated deep in the crust, not at the surface where it would cool quicker and have finer-grained texture, NASA stated.

        Note that they explicitly say that the rock did not cool on the surface, where it would have cooled quickly. Therefore, it's very likely that it did not come from an eruption of Olympus Mons.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          It's not only very likely, it's guaranteed that it did not form in an eruption. The rock they are considering is basically a form of granite. You can find granites in a few places, but a very common place for them to form is in a magma chamber beneath a volcano. Those may stay hot for years, allowing the magma to cool very slowly and crystals to form.

          So, I would say that there are a few things that could be interesting about this. First, our granites are typically micah, quartz, and feldspar (within the

      • and its what makes people interested in science in the first place

        its really not a problem to give voice to that wonder and amazement, what you call mystery and misdirection for some reason, in a popular press account. furthermore, science IS cool for science's sake. the issue is your definition of what science is. for some reason, you demand that science be stripped of everything but the most banal data

        i'm getting a little sick of slashdotters complaining about hype in science journalism. its populist, whi

    • can we have some of the moon please? high res ear-rise would be lovely... maybe with the sun in there as well..,
    • I'd like to take this Opportunity to, say, Europa.
    • Here's the question on my mind. Since we know that the MERs have a demonstated excellence, and have been producing fabulous data, why don't we lob a few more of them Marsward?
      • by Tablizer (95088)

        Here's the question on my mind. Since we know that the MERs have a demonstated excellence, and have been producing fabulous data, why don't we lob a few more of them Marsward?

        The next rover has some great tools that the current rovers don't, such as life-detection experiments and a remote rock-cooker via a laser in order to analyze chemical makeup without having to stick its snout against it.

    • by cthulhu11 (842924)
      "Underpromise, Overdeliver". While the longevity of some NASA craft is impressive indeed (Voyagers I & II most notably), others are embarrassing, like the failure of Galileo's HGA due to stupidity. I have to believe that NASA underspecs the official expectations for any mission these days, so that if the hardware does operate longer, they look good. Oh, and exceeding a 90-day mission by 200% would be 270 days. Maybe you mean 2000%.
  • Opportunity's rock abrasion tool - which was built by Honeybee Robotics Spacecraft Mechanisms -- was used to grind away some of the rock's surface and expose the interior. This was the 38th rock Opportunity has ground into, and one of the hardest, NASA stated.

    Don't most/all abrasive tools wear out? Here's its description [honeybeerobotics.com] (linked from the TFA). It doesn't matter how "gently" it operates, it'll eventually lose its effective geometry, and its surface coating should wear out.

    • I'm sure they do wear out. But you have to keep in mind these rovers were designed to last about 90 days on Mars, so I'm sure they weren't thinking about how long it would take the tools to grind down. And, as Spirit has shown us, we're never exactly sure when one of these might break or get stuck so there's no real point in saving them for more interesting finds.
    • by dtolman (688781)

      It is wearing out.

      If this really is one of the hardest - it may also be one of the last.

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      it'll eventually lose its effective geometry, and its surface coating should wear out.

      The bits basically self-sharpen as they wear (abrasive in matrix as opposed to a surface coating), but the abrasive pad wears away eventually. The bit is pictured on the lower left here [honeybeerobotics.com]. The little pads on the ends of the bit arms are the abrasive. Eventually, those little pads will be all used up.

  • Intrusive Igneous (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Drache Kubisuro (469932) on Friday January 22, 2010 @10:07AM (#30859534) Homepage Journal

    So if this is a coarse grained rock with a basalt composition, then I guess that means it is a Martian gabbro (on earth they tend to be used ornately as black "granite" countertops). Which is highly interesting because that may indicate crustal deformation. Here on earth, such rocks form deep in the ground in what we call plutons. These are pockets of magma that differentially crystallize into grabbros and granites. Plate tectonics nudges them to the surface and weathering + erosion helps to uncover them. The Sierra Nevadas is a continuous grouping of them called a Batholith. Yes, all that granodiorite use to be underfoot!

    Anyhow, this could be important in perhaps proving that, yes, at one point, Mars had active plate tectonics. Planet formation kind of requires it but good to know Mars may have had some crazy earthquakes in the past uplifting such rocks to the surface.

    • by mbone (558574)

      Maybe, but I would think that it got to the surface as part of the excavation of a meteor crater, which of course doesn't require any tectonics.

      I, personally, have always thought that the linear nature of Tharsis indicates some sort of internal tectonics, but that is decidedly not a majority view.

  • I hate when they give rocks and patches of dirt these grandiose names. You found a rock! It doesn't need a name. Sorry but I hate it.
    • by rubycodez (864176)

      I disagree, we spent millions of tax dollars to find and analyze that rock, damn right it better have a grandiose name.

      And samples do need labels, you'd be happy with "specimen #204"?.

      • by kmhebert (586931)
        I'd be thrilled. But then I'm a hater.
        • by rubycodez (864176)

          hating is much more satisfying having a name preceded by vile offensive adjectives for the object of hatred. The starker the contrast between the grandioseness of the name and the induced abhorrence in the mind of the hearer, the better.

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