Ten years of work on Mars. Happy Birthday, Opportunity!

A couple of weeks ago we celebrated the tenth anniversary  of the landing on Mars of the rover Spirit, but today's date, related to the landing on the red planet of her twin Opportunity, is even more important, because this small rover today celebrates a real birthday, being still functioning.

Opportunity landed successfully on Mars on January 25, 2004 (UTC) for what was supposed to be a 90-day mission. But she is still there sending new data daily to her team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena. At this time she is in Solander Point, on the rim of Endeavour Crater, where she is positioned with her solar panels facing north (she is located in the southern hemisphere of Mars) to collect the maximum solar radiation during the long Martian winter (which lasts six months). This positioning should allow her to get enough energy to keep working even in this less favourable time of year, during which she is generally forced to stop all her activities for long periods.

But in these days the small Oppy, as she is affectionately called, has witnessed an unusual event: the appearance of a stone of unknown origin where there was nothing just twelve sols (Martian days) before. Most likely the appearance of the piece of rock was caused by the movement of the rover herself, but has also aroused considerable curiosity due to its unusual chemical composition. JPL team is still investigating this mystery.

Meanwhile Opportunity enjoys the achievement of this important milestone, a true record of longevity on the surface of an extraterrestrial planetary body, which is unlikely to be exceeded any soon.
Her twin Spirit, though she has stopped working a few years ago (the mission was completed in March 2010) with more than six years of service was still a great success.
Opportunity, during her 10 years of service (more than 3550 sols), have travelled more than 39 km (which are a lot, considering how small she is) and sent over 187 thousand images to her team on Earth.
On NASA's site dedicated to Mars exploration a special section to celebrate 10 yearsof the program of these two rovers has been put online, which lists all their findings.

Currently on the surface of Mars is also another rover, Curiosity. As big as a small car, Curiosity is driving around in the red planet for a year and a half now. The original mission is expected to last two years, but the rover, provided with a nuclear powered battery, might work, save unexpected failures, up to fifteen years. Unfortunately we don't know yet if the mission will be extended due to the problems concerning NASA's budget. The U.S. space agency may be forced to choose between this mission and that of the Cassini spacecraft, which is studying Saturn and its moons for 16 years.

Meanwhile Curiosity and Opportunity continue their work on the red planet. The combined findings of the two rovers, among other things, have allowed us to confirm that the conditions for the development of life existed on Mars. Perhaps there was life on Mars in the past or maybe there is yet, but we now know for sure that it is a concrete possibility.
In the meantime we give our best wishes for a happy birthday to Opportunity, hoping that she will celebrate many more of these days.