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NASA's Opportunity rover may have just broken the off-world driving record

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/S. Sutherland

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/S. Sutherland

Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist/Science Writer

Wednesday, June 11, 2014, 4:08 PM - Well into its amazing 10th year of conducting science on the surface of Mars, NASA's Opportunity rover may have broken a long standing record - the farthest distance any human-made object has driven on the surface of another planet or moon.

Similar claims were made last year, just as Opportunity was surpassing the 37 kilometre mark on its odometer, because that was the distance travelled by Russia's Lunokhod 2 robot rover, nearly 40 years before that, as it trundled across the Moon in 1973... or so everyone thought.

That distance was based on what Lunohkod 2's on-board odometer relayed back to Earth, compared with fairly low-resolution images taken by spacecraft orbiting the Moon at the time. However, NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) flew over Lunokhod 2 and its tracks, snapping high-resolution pictures that it sent back to Earth. These images gave a slightly different account, and Russian scientists apparently reported that the rover had actually driven a total of 42 kilometres. That pushed the marker quite a distance away for Opportunity. However, further analysis and discussion between Russian and U.S. colleagues brought the agreed-upon distance back down a bit, to 39 kilometers.

As of the latest update from Opportunity, the plucky little Mars rover has covered a total distance of 39.44 kilometres, having surpassed the 39 km mark sometime in mid-to-late April! So, unless someone comes up with a new revision for Lunokhod 2, that puts her in the lead!

How shall we celebrate this momentous occasion? How about an amazing panoramic image Opportunity snapped at her current location:

Click the image to open up the full 100+ megapixel version!

(H/T to Jason Major for Lunokhod 2's updated distance measurement)

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