We might not be able to get there yet, but as NASA says, ‘this is the next best thing’.
From fresh rover tracks to an impact crater blasted billions of years ago, a newly completed view from the panoramic camera (Pancam) on NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity shows the ruddy terrain which the voyaging robot spent the Martian winter.
This scene, recorded from the mast-mounted color camera includes the rover’s own solar arrays and deck in the foreground, provides a sense of sitting on top of the rover and taking in the view.
Its release this week coincides with two milestones: Opportunity completing its 3,000th Martian day on July 2, and NASA continuing past 15 years of robotic presence at Mars on July 4.
The new panorama is presented in false color to emphasise differences between materials in the scene.
It was assembled from 817 component images taken between Dec. 21, 2011, and May 8, 2012, while Opportunity was stationed on an outcrop informally named ‘Greeley Haven’. on a segment of the rim of ancient Endeavour Crater.
Pancam lead scientist Jim Bell said: ‘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.’
Opportunity and its twin, Spirit, landed on Mars in January 2004 for missions originally planned to last for three months. NASA’s next-generation Mars rover, Curiosity, is on course for landing on Mars next month.
Opportunity’s science team chose to call the winter campaign site Greeley Haven in tribute to Ronald Greeley (1939-2011), a team member who taught generations of planetary science students at Arizona State University.
‘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,’ said Steve Squyres of Cornell University, principal investigator for Opportunity and Spirit.
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, Washington.
Later this year, the car-sized Curiosity Rover will land on Mars.
Unlike earlier rovers, Curiosity carries equipment to gather samples of rocks and soil, process them and distribute them to onboard test chambers inside analytical instruments.
It has a robotic arm which deploys two instruments, scoops soil, prepares and delivers samples for analytic instruments and brushes surfaces.
Its assignment is to investigate whether conditions have been favorable for microbial life and for preserving clues in the rocks about possible past life.
The goal of the mission is to assess whether the landing area has ever had or still has environmental conditions favorable to microbial life.
Curiosity will land near the foot of a layered mountain inside Gale crater, layers of this mountain contain minerals that form in water.
The portion of the crater floor where Curiosity will land has an alluvial fan likely formed by water-carried sediments.
Curiosity will also carry the most advanced load of scientific gear ever used on Mars’ surface, a more than 10 times as massive as those of earlier Mars rovers.
Curiosity is about twice as long and five times as heavy as NASA’s twin Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, launched in 2003.