Overview of the Opportunity Mars Exploration Rover Mission to Meridiani Planum: Eagle Crater to Purgatory Ripple
The Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity touched down at Meridiani Planum in January 2004 and since then has been conducting observations with the Athena science payload. The rover has traversed more than 5 km, carrying out the first outcrop-scale investigation of sedimentary rocks on Mars. The rocks of Meridiani Planum are sandstones formed by eolian and aqueous reworking of sand grains that are composed of mixed fine-grained siliciclastics and sulfates. The siliciclastic fraction was produced by chemical alteration of a precursor basalt. The sulfates are dominantly Mg-sulfates and also include Ca-sulfates and jarosite. The stratigraphic section observed to date is dominated by eolian bedforms, with subaqueous current ripples exposed near the top of the section. After deposition, interaction with groundwater produced a range of diagenetic features, notably the hematite-rich concretions known as ``blueberries.'' The bedrock at Meridiani is highly friable and has undergone substantial erosion by wind-transported basaltic sand. This sand, along with concretions and concretion fragments eroded from the rock, makes up a soil cover that thinly and discontinuously buries the bedrock. The soil surface exhibits both ancient and active wind ripples that record past and present wind directions. Loose rocks on the soil surface are rare and include both impact ejecta and meteorites. While Opportunity's results show that liquid water was once present at Meridiani Planum below and occasionally at the surface, the environmental conditions recorded were dominantly arid, acidic, and oxidizing and would have posed some significant challenges to the origin of life.