After ten years of exploring the surface of Mars, the scientists overseeing rover Opportunity thought they’d seen it all. Then a rock mysteriously "appeared" a few feet in front of the six-wheeled rover a few days ago.
The news was announced by NASA Mars Exploration Rover lead scientist Steve Squyres of Cornell University at a special NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory "10 years of roving Mars" event at Caltech on Thursday night.
The rover hasn't moved in over a month as it waits for better weather on the red planet.
But a photo taken on Sol 3540 (January 8th, or the 3,540th Martian solar day since the Opportunity rover landed) shows a rock that wasn't visible in previous photos taken on Sol 3536.
Mars Exploration Rover lead scientist Steve Squyres said the rock may be Martian rock that was blown out of the ground by a meteoroid impact and landed next to the rover.
Another theory is that the rock previously got stuck in a rover wheel and finally fell into its current position.
"It obligingly turned upside down, so we're seeing a side that hasn't seen the Martian atmosphere in billions of years and there it is for us to investigate," Mr Squyres said.
"It's just a stroke of luck."
Opportunity has been on Mars for 10 years, despite being designed for a 90 Sol mission.
A Sol, one Martian day, is slightly longer than an Earth day at 24 hours and 37 minutes.
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Thanks to OGer for the find!