Mars rover Opportunity is about to embark on a new mission, looking for signs of life

Click for larger view of Opportunity’s trek as it heads for Spirit Point

Things can be pretty slow-going on the red planet for NASA’s Mars rover Opportunity. Since January of 2004, the solar-powered Opportunity has been chugging along the planet’s surface at a leisurely pace of 60 centimeters an hour, but there’s exciting news on the horizon. Or rather, its horizon.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has reported that Opportunity should reach its next long-term target, the rim of Mars’s massive Endeavour crater, by sometime tonight. There, it will examine ancient Martian rocks, searching for any signs that life once existed on the planet.

Opportunity is headed for a site on the western rim of the crater called “Spirit Point” (named after NASA’s Spirit rover, which NASA lost contact with in March of 2010, and is identical in design to Opportunity). The image below was snapped by Opportunity’s onboard panoramic camera, and gives us a view of the rim from just over 300 feet away.

via Mars rover Opportunity is about to embark on a new mission, looking for signs of life.

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