NASA's Rover Opportunity reaches huge Martian crater

NASA's Rover Opportunity, currently traipsing across the surface of Mars, has arrived at the rim of the Victoria Crater, a gash in the planet's surface over half a mile wide and 230 feet deep.

The rover has been heading for the crater for more than half its time on the planet. Its journey as been interrupted by "frequent stops to examine intriguing rocks" and even a sand ripple, that kept the rover pinned down for more than five weeks.

Scientists hope the crater, which exposes so much Martian geology, will help them understand even more about the historical environment of the planet. Previously, NASA described it as a "scientific treasure trove".

Steve Squyres of Cornell University, principal investigator for NASA's twin rovers Opportunity and Spirit described the arrival as a geologist's dream come true, reports Register.

"This is a geologist's dream come true," said Steve Squyres of Cornell University, the principal investigator for NASA's Mars rover program.

"We especially want to learn whether the wet era that we found recorded in the rocks closer to the landing site extended farther back in time. The way to find that out is to go deeper, and Victoria may let us do that."

From the rim of Victoria, there are good views of the crater interior. The rover will use its set of cameras to help scientists intensively study the crater, according to Squyres.

Opportunity has been exploring Mars since January 2004, more than 10 times longer than its original prime mission of three months.

Most of the journey was to get from "Endurance" crater to "Victoria," across a flat plain pocked with smaller craters and strewn with sand ripples. Frequent stops to examine intriguing rocks interrupted the journey, and one large sand ripple kept the rover trapped for more than five weeks.

The twin rovers, Opportunity and Spirit, are staying in a northward-tilted position through the southern Mars winter, in order to collect the maximum energy supply for its solar panels, JPL said.

Spirit is conducting studies that benefit from staying in one place, such as monitoring effects of wind on dust. It will start driving again, when the Martian spring increases the amount of solar power available, informs Xinhua.