For several months starting October, the rover team plans to operate Opportunity on the southern side of the valley to take advantage of the sun-facing slope.

The site is in Mars' southern hemisphere, so the sun is to the north during fall and winter days. Tilting the rover toward the sun increases power output from its solar panels.

The shortest-daylight period of this seventh Martian winter for Opportunity will come in January 2016.

"Our expectation is that Opportunity will be able to remain mobile through the winter," said John Callas, project manager from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

"Marathon Valley" slices downhill from west to east for about 300 yards through the western rim of Endeavour Crater.

"When spring arrives, the rover will return to the valley floor for detailed measurements of outcrops that may host the clay minerals," added deputy principal investigator Ray Arvidson from Washington University in St Louis.

NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Project landed twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity on Mars in 2004 to begin missions planned to last three months.

The findings about ancient wet environments on Mars have come from both rovers.


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