NASA has released a new panoramic camera image of the Mars terrain taken from the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity. NASA describes the high resolution full-circle (panoramic) image as the "next best thing to being there."
The image was released during the week after Opportunity completed its 3,000th Martian day on July 2. The release also coincides with NASA's 15 years unbroken robotic presence on Mars.
The image shows the ruddy Martian terrain taken from a mast-mounted color camera with the rover's solar arrays and deck in the foreground, giving an impression of viewing the Martian landscape seated on top of the rover. The image includes fresh rover tracks and an impact crater blasted billions of years ago.
According to NASA, the image was assembled from 817 component images taken by the panoramic camera (Pancam) between December 21, 2011 and May 8, 2012 while Opportunity was stationed on an outcrop called "Greeley Haven," a portion of the rim of the Endeavour Crater. The site was called Greeley Haven after Ronald Greeley (1939-2011), a member of Opportunity's science team. According to Steve Squyres of Cornell University and principal investigator for Opportunity and Spirit, "Ron Greeley was a valued colleague and friend, and this scene, with its beautiful wind-blown drifts and dunes, captures much of what Ron loved about Mars."
Full-circle view of the Martian terrain captured from Opportunity Rover by Pancam
The high-definition full-circle color image shows the terrain that surrounded Opportunity while it was stationery for four months during the last Martian winter. According to NASA, Pancam took the component images between the 2,811th Martian day, or sol, of the rover's Mars surface mission (Dec. 21, 2011) and Sol 2,947(May 8, 2012). Opportunity spent most of the four months on "Greely Haven"
Tracks of Opportunity Rover on the Martian surafce
NASA gives details of the view the image captures:
"North is at the center of the image. South is at both ends. On the far left at the horizon is 'Rich Morris Hill.' That outcrop on Cape York was informally named in memory of John R. 'Rich' Morris (1973-2011), an aerospace engineer and musician who was a Mars rover team member and mission manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena.
Bright wind-blown deposits on the left are banked up against the Greeley Haven outcrop. Opportunity's tracks can be seen extending from the south, with a turn-in-place and other maneuvers evident from activities to position the rover at Greeley Haven. The tracks in some locations have exposed darker underlying soils by disturbing a thin, bright dust cover.
Other bright, dusty deposits can be seen to the north, northeast, and east of Greeley Haven. The deposit at the center of the image, due north from the rover's winter location, is a dusty patch called 'North Pole'. Opportunity drove to it and investigated it in May 2012 as an example of wind-blown Martian dust.
The interior of Endeavour Crater can been seen just below the horizon in the right half of the scene, to the northeast and east of Cape York. The crater spans 14 miles (22 kilometers) in diameter.
Opportunity's solar panels and other structures show dust that has accumulated over the lifetime of the mission. Opportunity has been working on Mars since January 2004.
During the recent four months that Opportunity worked at Greeley Haven, activities included radio-science observations to better understand Martian spin axis dynamics and thus interior structure, investigations of the composition and textures of an outcrop exposing an impact-jumbled rock formation on the crater rim, monitoring the atmosphere and surface for changes, and acquisition of this full-color mosaic of the surroundings.
The panorama combines exposures taken through Pancam filters centered on wavelengths of 753 nanometers (near infrared), 535 nanometers (green) and 432 nanometers (violet). The view is presented in false color to make some differences between materials easier to see.
Lead scientist Jim Bell, says: "The view provides rich geologic context for the detailed chemical and mineral work that the team did at Greeley Haven over the rover's fifth Martian winter, as well as a spectacularly detailed view of the largest impact crater that we've driven to yet with either rover over the course of the mission."
Close-up of a section of the image
Opportunity landed with Spirit on Mars in January 2004 for a mission originally planned to last three months. According to the Daily Mail, NASA's next-generation rover, Curiosity, is expected to land on the red planet next month. NASA says that Curiosity, unlike previous rovers, carries equipment to gather samples of rocks and soil, process them and distribute them to test chambers carrying instruments that run chemical and physical analysis of the samples. The rover will land near the foot of a layered mountain inside Gale crater that contain minerals that form in water.
Opportunity does a self-portrait
The primary assignment of Curiosity is to investigate whether conditions have been favorable for microbial life on Mars. The mission will assess whether the landing area has ever had or now has environmental conditions favorable for microbial life.
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Exploration Rover Project for the NASA Science Mission Directorate in Washington.