Spirit & Opportunity: 10 Years Roving Across Mars
Closed on September 14, 2014
This exhibition celebrates the amazing images and achievements of the two Mars Exploration Rovers on the 10th anniversary of their landings on the Red Planet.
The twin Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity were launched toward Mars in the summer of 2003. They arrived months later in spectacular fashion, bouncing down safely on the surface after a harrowing six-minute descent through the thin atmosphere. Spirit arrived on January 3, 2004, and Opportunity on January 24, 2004.
One of the mission’s main scientific goals was to search for and study a wide range of rocks and soils that hold clues to past water activity on Mars. To do this, the rovers landed on opposite sides of Mars in locations that appear to have been affected by liquid water in the past.
The goal of each rover was to travel up to 1 kilometer (2/3 mile) during a primary mission of 90 Martian days. Both rovers far exceeded these expectations. Spirit traveled 7.7 kilometers (4.8 miles) over more than six years. Opportunity has traveled more than 38 kilometers (23.6 miles) over an ongoing mission that has reached 10 years.
This exhibition is made possible through the generosity of Cornell University, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and NASA.
A Bowl Full of Blueberries
These loose, BB-sized, hematite-rich spherules are embedded in this Martian rock like blueberries in a muffin and released over time by erosion. The Mars Rover Opportunity found this cluster of them at its Eagle Crater landing site and analyzed their composition with its spectrometers. Hypotheses about their formation have contributed to the story of water on Mars.
A Study In Shadow
Late afternoon sunlight casts a long shadow of Opportunity, perched at the edge of Endurance Crater.
The Empty Quarter
Rover tracks disappear toward the horizon like the wake of a ship across the desolate sea of sand between the craters Endurance and Victoria on the Meridiani Plains. Opportunity took the image while stuck in the sand ripple dubbed Purgatory for over a month.
The piece of metal with the American flag on it is made of aluminum recovered from the site of the World Trade Center towers in New York City. It serves as a cable guard for Spirit’s rock abrasion tool as well as a memorial to the victims of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Opportunity has an identical piece.
Tiny spherules pepper a sandy surface in this 3-centimeter (1.2-inch) square view of the Martian surface. The largest one is broken in half and shows little internal texture—typical of these “blueberries” on the Meridiani Plains. Opportunity took this image while the target was shadowed by the rover’s instrument arm.
Layers and "Blueberries" on Mars
This was one of the first images of the sulfate-rich outcrops on the Meridiani Plains of Mars to show a broken spherule, or “blueberry” (below center). The spherules do not deflect the crosswise layers of finer sediments, indicating that the spherules and sediments were not deposited at the same time. The image shows a 3-centimeter (1.2-inch) square section of the rock Robert E in Eagle Crater.
The Mars Rover Spirit took this sublime view of a sunset over the rim of Gusev Crater, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) away. Taken from Husband Hill, it looks much like a sunset on Earth—a reminder that other worlds can seem eerily familiar. Sunset and twilight images help scientists to determine how high into the atmosphere the Martian dust extends and to look for dust or ice clouds.
Waves of Sand on Mars
The El Dorado Dune Field dominates this 160-degree view. The Mars Rover Spirit spent several days exploring this area and acquiring images and data on the physical characteristics of this large basaltic sand sheet, before moving downhill toward Home Plate.
Spirit & Opportunity: 10 Years Roving on Mars
"Spirit & Opportunity: 10 Years Roving on Mars" opened January 3, 2014 and will be on view in the "Flight and the Arts" gallery (211) through September 14, 2014.
Smithsonian Institution / Eric Long
Mars Exploration Rover: Full-Scale Model
Full-scale model of the Mars Exploration Rover. The twin Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity landed on Mars in 2004.
Smithsonian Institution / Eric Long