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Opportunity runs marathon on Mars, only takes 11 years

NASA's plucky old rover Opportunity reached a new milestone by topping a marathon distance on Mars.

Opportunity's marathon
This yellow trail shows Opportunity's marathon path. NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/NMMNHS

Last year, NASA's Opportunity rover broke a 40-year-old record by passing 25 miles of exploration on Mars. Not content with this accomplishment, the rover rolled on, eventually crossing the finish line of a Mars marathon. On March 24, Opportunity topped 26 miles of driving distance, a mark of pride familiar to many a long-distance runner.

It took the rover 11 years and 2 months (or 3,968 Martian days) to pull off the feat of endurance. A day on Mars is equivalent to about 24 hours and 37 minutes on Earth.

"This is the first time any human enterprise has exceeded the distance of a marathon on the surface of another world," said Opportunity project manager John Callas. The rover team plans to complete a marathon-length run relay at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory on Earth to celebrate the accomplishment.

Opportunity isn't resting on its laurels. The rover continues to explore the rim of the Endeavour Crater, looking for clues to Mars' early environment and whether it could have supported microbial life.

NASA's Curiosity rover tends to get most of the space headlines because of its drills and high-tech sampling equipment. Yet Opportunity has been diligently exploring the Red Planet ever since it landed in 2004. The rover was originally scheduled for just a three-month mission. Now, all these years later, it can add marathon champion to its list of surprising achievements.