Mars Rover Reaches 8-Year Mark On The Red Planet

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It's like the Energizer Bunny of Mars missions. The rover Opportunity landed on the red planet in 2004, and it just keeps going. This week was the eight-year anniversary of its landing. Here's WFTV.

"It was expected to operate for only three months, but in the last eight years it's driven more than 21 miles while collecting data from Martian craters."

Mars enthusiasts everywhere wished Opportunity a happy eighth birthday.

NASA celebrated by releasing this composite image from the rover's panoramic camera. It shows the sandy and windswept Martian surface. (Image source: NASA)

What's more, Opportunity might have rung in its ninth year with a major discovery. A writer for the Cornell Daily Sun explains.

"...Opportunity discovered a mineral vein telling of a warmer, wetter and potentially more conducive to life past for the seemingly cold, dry and desolate Red Planet. ... The find is the single most compelling piece of evidence for water activity found on Mars..."

NASA scientists are trying to keep Opportunity going as long as possible, though they admit every day is a gift at this point. At the moment, the rover is going through its fifth Martian winter. NASA explains, it's trying to catch every bit of sunlight in its dust-covered solar cells.

"We had to take the rover and drive it up onto a ridge that gives us about a 15-degree tilt toward the north. ... It's kind of like adjusting your deck chair to maximize your sun tan."

But that doesn't mean Opportunity is taking the winter off. The exploration continues even while sitting still. Popular Science explains how scientists can use the rover's radio signals to learn about the center of the planet.

"The rover's high-gain antenna will track Earth and scientists will measure the Doppler shift in the radio signal as Mars wobbles. ... The wobble can indicate how much of the core is melted -- the way a raw egg wobbles vs. the tight spin of a hardboiled one."

Opportunity's twin rover, Spirit, also outlived its original mission, but got stuck in the sand and ran out of power in 2010. The next rover, Curiosity, is scheduled to land in August.

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