Scientists Hail Rover’s First Images Of Dramatic Mars Crater

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After an arduous 21-month journey, the Mars rover Opportunity edged close enough to the rim of a large crater yesterday to send back its first photos of the bottom and rocky sides of the dramatic site. What they showed left researchers increasingly confident their robotic explorer had reached a scientific gold mine that will dramatically increase their understanding of the planet’s history.

NASA scientists said the rover came within about 15 feet of Victoria Crater’s rim and was scheduled to climb over a small sand dune last night and stop right at the crater’s edge.

“The pictures we got tell us there is a tremendous amount of geologic information hidden in that crater,” the principal science investigator for the mission, Steven Squyres of Cornell University, said. “What secrets it actually holds we won’t know till we begin to get the data. But yesterday’s picture alone makes the voyage worthwhile.”

Opportunity, which has survived on Mars 10 times longer than initially was thought possible, traveled more than six miles to get to Victoria — a pit created by an impact that is 200 feet deep and half a mile across. It is larger than any crater explored so far by the twin Martian rovers, Opportunity and Spirit.

NASA scientists were ecstatic about the day’s progress and images and said more is to come. The Opportunity team is scheduled to meet today to decide which of two rock promontories, dubbed Cape Verde and Cabo Frio, would give the rover the best view of Victoria. The outcroppings project into the crater, and scientists said they would allow the rover to take dramatic panoramic shots in color with its high-resolution camera.

A NASA project scientist, Bruce Banerdt, said yesterday’s images showed some of the rock stratification that geologists associate with the earlier presence of liquid water.

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