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NASA Mars Rover Opportunity Grinds "Cool" Rock

timothy posted more than 4 years ago | from the dude-that-is-far-out dept.

Mars 70

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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Unearthing? (4, Funny)

Scutter (18425) | more than 4 years ago | (#30858144)

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

Shouldn't that be "unmarsing"?

Re:Unearthing? (0, Redundant)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#30858164)

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

Shouldn't that be "unmarsing"?

Uncovering?

(as pointed out by Harry Harrison, humans in the distant future may wonder why the original home planet of Humanity had a name which means "Dirt").

Re:Unearthing? (1)

Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) | more than 4 years ago | (#30858206)

as pointed out by Harry Harrison, humans in the distant future may wonder why the original home planet of Humanity had a name which means "Dirt"

Considering humanity's history, it makes as much sense as naming their fist to-be colonized planet after a god of war.

Re:Unearthing? (1, Funny)

derGoldstein (1494129) | more than 4 years ago | (#30858316)

it makes as much sense as naming their fist to-be colonized planet after a god of war.

I named my fists Romulus and Remus. I hadn't considered colonizing them, however.

Re:Unearthing? (3, Funny)

Rogerborg (306625) | more than 4 years ago | (#30858340)

I named my fists Romulus and Remus.

I named my fists Kirk and... well, the second one doesn't need a name. Kirk wins. You want to go again? Kirk wins again.

kirk fist, meet my feet (2, Funny)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 4 years ago | (#30858466)

chuck, and norris

ROUNDHOUSE

Re:Unearthing? (1)

Hurricane78 (562437) | more than 3 years ago | (#30867528)

Meet my foot. It’s called “Chuck”!

Re:Unearthing? (1)

Sebilrazen (870600) | more than 4 years ago | (#30858662)

I have tattoos on the backs of my arms that read "Phobos" and "Deimos."

Re:Unearthing? (1)

motorhead (82353) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859264)

The Pork Chop and The Biscuit Cutter

Re:Unearthing? (1)

briareus (195464) | more than 4 years ago | (#30858494)

Kids these days don't even wonder why they use words like "dial" with regard to their phones (since there's no rotatable disc or round face to indicate time or any other unit of measure). The odd person might give it a moment's thought at most.

Re:Unearthing? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30858234)

Unsoiling?

Re:Unearthing? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30858290)

Unshiting your pants.

from the wow who cares dept (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30858508)

question and how does this help human kind or do anything for my bills

Opportunity Rocks (2, Informative)

smitty777 (1612557) | more than 4 years ago | (#30858208)

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] .

Re:Opportunity Rocks (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#30858244)

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

Re:Opportunity Rocks (2, Interesting)

shabtai87 (1715592) | more than 4 years ago | (#30858292)

They usually tell engineers to over-engineer, when in doubt, but props to these guys for taking it to the next level!

Re:Opportunity Rocks (2, Interesting)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#30858480)

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.

Re:Opportunity Rocks (1)

smitty777 (1612557) | more than 4 years ago | (#30858620)

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:Opportunity Rocks (2, Insightful)

GooberToo (74388) | more than 4 years ago | (#30860054)

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 within a 90 day time frame.

Since little dust has collected over time the robots have continued to recharge, thusly drastically extending their life beyond their proficised expiration date.

Re:Opportunity Rocks (1)

WalksOnDirt (704461) | more than 4 years ago | (#30861880)

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

Re:Opportunity Rocks (1)

GooberToo (74388) | more than 4 years ago | (#30862230)

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:Opportunity Rocks (2, Insightful)

smitty777 (1612557) | more than 4 years ago | (#30858310)

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

Re:Opportunity Rocks (1)

dakameleon (1126377) | more than 4 years ago | (#30858682)

Given the martian day is only 40min longer than an earth day, the difference isn't that significant.

Re:Opportunity Rocks (1)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 4 years ago | (#30858406)

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:Opportunity Rocks (2, Insightful)

moondawg14 (1058442) | more than 4 years ago | (#30858446)

If you'd be willing to accept some Opportunity-sized solar panels, we could remedy that for you.

Re:Opportunity Rocks (1)

Skater (41976) | more than 4 years ago | (#30858482)

Well, attach some huge solar panels [wikipedia.org] to your iPhone.

Re:Opportunity Rocks (1)

Wizzu (30521) | more than 4 years ago | (#30858698)

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 life, for the price of merely a few dozens of thousands of dollars. :)

Re:Opportunity Rocks (1)

Aeros (668253) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859316)

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.

Re:Opportunity Rocks (2, Funny)

jgardia (985157) | more than 4 years ago | (#30860322)

metric or imperial days?

Re:Opportunity Rocks (1)

Spazztastic (814296) | more than 4 years ago | (#30858604)

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.

Re:Opportunity Rocks (1)

smitty777 (1612557) | more than 4 years ago | (#30858666)

If you liked that one, make sure to check out these: the postcard [wikimedia.org] , Eagle Crater [wikimedia.org] , Fram Crater [wikimedia.org] , some cool valley [wikimedia.org] , and Erebus Rim [wikimedia.org] .

Re:Opportunity Rocks (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 4 years ago | (#30866066)

Burns Cliff [wikimedia.org] is also pretty nifty.

In other news (2, Interesting)

celtic_hackr (579828) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859442)

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 science be cool just for science's sake? Ugh.

Re:In other news (2, Informative)

SWPadnos (191329) | more than 4 years ago | (#30860154)

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:In other news (2, Interesting)

red_blue_yellow (1353825) | more than 4 years ago | (#30861402)

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 continents); I wonder what ones on Mars consist of? Second, this could possibly help us to understand a bit more about the history of plate tectonics on mars. As far as I know, evidence points to tectonic activity in the past, but it's not decided.

its called wonder and amazement (1)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 4 years ago | (#30860232)

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, which means it is not 100% technically accurate, it glosses over the issue and leaves important issues out, makes incredibly broad assumptions, injects some fantastic thinking into the whole endeavour... none of which are problems. desireable even

even if the reporter obviously doesn't have the greatest grasp fo the subject matter, the point that the information is out there and available to joe citizen is the most important thing. stop thinking lack of technical rigor and incompleteness is grouns to complain about the intersection of science and journalism. the intersection of science and jorunalism is messy: just fucking accept that already. its important to get the word out there, and if joe citizen is interested, he'll dig down and find out the crux of the matter itself

science journalism is just gloss folks, it is meant for mass consumption. stop fucking nitpicking it like it were an abstract in "nature" for fuck's sake

Re:its called wonder and amazement (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 3 years ago | (#30867094)

Though one would think /. isn't among the "popular press"...oh well.

Re:Opportunity Rocks (1)

wisdom_brewing (557753) | more than 4 years ago | (#30860764)

can we have some of the moon please? high res ear-rise would be lovely... maybe with the sun in there as well..,

Re:Opportunity Rocks (1)

Arthur Grumbine (1086397) | more than 4 years ago | (#30861106)

I'd like to take this Opportunity to, say, Europa.

Re:Opportunity Rocks (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 4 years ago | (#30864928)

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?

Re:Opportunity Rocks (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 4 years ago | (#30866168)

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.

Re:Opportunity Rocks (1)

cthulhu11 (842924) | more than 3 years ago | (#30867986)

"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%.

Rocks?!?!? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30858264)

We are all excited over rocks now? How about water on Mars? Something that shows that we would be able to sustain a colony on Mars? Rocks really *sigh*.

Yes, rocks. (1, Interesting)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 4 years ago | (#30858272)

Rocks are the precursor to water.

Re:Rocks?!?!? (3, Funny)

happy_place (632005) | more than 4 years ago | (#30858592)

Well this is Mars. There are a lot of them. Family Vacations on mars might be as exciting as driving through Nebraska.

"I spy with my little eye, something red."

"Is it... a rock?"

"Your turn."

(repeat ad nauseum)

Re:Rocks?!?!? (1)

mbone (558574) | more than 4 years ago | (#30860060)

Spirit and Opportunity are geology missions. Looking for & at rocks is what they are intended to do.

There is a back story here. After the perceived strategic failure of Viking (the spacecraft all worked fine, but a lot of money was spent to find life, and then positive results from the bio experiments were disbelieved because of the low levels of organics on the surface), it has taken NASA 3+ decades to attempt another biology test - the MSL [nasa.gov] . The MER were sold to do geology, and that's what they have been doing.

rock abrasion tool (1)

derGoldstein (1494129) | more than 4 years ago | (#30858360)

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.

Re:rock abrasion tool (1)

Asclepius99 (1527727) | more than 4 years ago | (#30858382)

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.

Re:rock abrasion tool (1)

dtolman (688781) | more than 4 years ago | (#30858384)

It is wearing out.

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

Re:rock abrasion tool (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30859246)

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.

Hmm. (1)

s1lverl0rd (1382241) | more than 4 years ago | (#30858404)

Cool.

Two rovers, one stuck (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30858428)

How far apart are the two rovers?

Re:Two rovers, one stuck (2, Funny)

montyzooooma (853414) | more than 4 years ago | (#30858450)

I agree. If Hollywood had been involved in these mission Opportunity would already have carried out a successful rescue mission.

Re:Two rovers, one stuck (1)

Kjella (173770) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859060)

If Hollywood was involved, they'd already have sent the team from Armageddon.

Re:Two rovers, one stuck (3, Informative)

smitty777 (1612557) | more than 4 years ago | (#30858534)

Unfortunately, they are on the opposite sides of the planet [wikipedia.org] . I was thinking the same thing - maybe one could assist the other. But considering it takes about a year to go 3 miles, it doesn't seem very practical. There is a serious race against time, as the martian winter is soon approaching, which NASA feels will certainly end the life of Spirit.

Re:Two rovers, one stuck (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30858910)

Meh. Plot details. Nothing a couple of retconned rockets couldn't fix.

Re:Two rovers, one stuck (1)

glop (181086) | more than 4 years ago | (#30860324)

I guess these robots are getting everybody to see them a bit like people.
Normally you should just think they are things are are redundant and it's really cool that one is still going even though the other one will soon stop functioning.
But people are concerned Spirit will "die", they mention rescue missions and they would want the other rover to come and help Spirit.

All this emotion is really interesting. I suppose it's really good for robotic missions as it means people can care about things happening to a little robot far away and hopefully more science will come out of this public interest.

Myself, I really wish they could find a solution for Spirit...

Re:Two rovers, one stuck (1)

Xinvoker (1660417) | more than 4 years ago | (#30862288)

Unfortunately, they are on the opposite sides of the planet [wikipedia.org] .

Not unfortunately, it's been done so that they can explore different areas and they don't have to compete for communication time with the orbiter.

Re:Two rovers, one stuck (1)

WeatherGod (1726770) | more than 4 years ago | (#30864234)

Unfortunately, they are on the opposite sides of the planet [wikipedia.org] .

Not unfortunately, it's been done so that they can explore different areas and they don't have to compete for communication time with the orbiter.

And it was a good thing, too. Spirit landed in a volcanic region while Opportunity landed in (I believe) a lake bed. Exploring two completely different geologies has yielded an amazing wealth of information. If we had both rovers in the same region, we would not have a sense of the geological diversity that we have now.

Re:Two rovers, one stuck (1)

Infiniti2000 (1720222) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859372)

How'd they get the one out of the ditch [tv.com] ?

Anthropomorphized Robotics (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30859288)

Bringing to mind the pranksters role-playing the rovers as teen-aged girls on Livejournal, the mental image of OpportunityGrrl getting dirty and grinding against rock-hard.... excuse me, I'll be afk for a moment.

Better article about Marquette Island (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30859310)

Here's a better article [sciencedaily.com] with a bigger picture and a bit more explanation, and here's a much bigger picture [nasa.gov] .

Intrusive Igneous (3, Interesting)

Drache Kubisuro (469932) | more than 4 years ago | (#30859534)

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.

Re:Intrusive Igneous (1)

mbone (558574) | more than 4 years ago | (#30860092)

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.

Marquette Island, My Ass (1)

kmhebert (586931) | more than 4 years ago | (#30860398)

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.

Re:Marquette Island, My Ass (1)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 4 years ago | (#30860676)

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"?.

Re:Marquette Island, My Ass (1)

kmhebert (586931) | more than 4 years ago | (#30860698)

I'd be thrilled. But then I'm a hater.

Re:Marquette Island, My Ass (1)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 4 years ago | (#30860866)

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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