NASA's Mars panorama is breathtaking
NASA has released a panoramic image depicting the ruddy terrain around the outcrop where the space agency's Opportunity rover spent its most recent Martian winter.
The scene below - recorded from a mast-mounted color camera - includes the rover's own solar arrays and deck in the foreground. The image is presented in false color to emphasize differences between materials in the scene.
The panorama was assembled from 817 component images snapped between December 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.
North is at the center of the image, while south is at both ends. On the far left at the horizon is "Rich Morris Hill." 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 also be 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.
"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," said Jim Bell of Arizona State University.
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 track to land on Mars next month.