After 5,000 Sols We See the Face of Opportunity

Opportunity’s first-ever selfie on Mars, captured on Sol 5000. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Jason Major)

It’s finally happened—after over 14 years on Mars (14!!!) NASA’s Opportunity rover has turned its arm-mounted camera around to take a look at itself, giving us the very first true “selfie” of the Mars Exploration Rover mission! Hello Opportunity!

The image above comprises 17 separate images captured by Opportunity’s Microscopic Imager on Feb. 15, 2018. it’s no coincidence that the photo shoot was planned on that particular day either; the date marked the rover’s 5,000th sol in operation. A sol is what mission scientists call a Martian day, which lasts 24 hours, 39 minutes, and 35.244 seconds (a bit longer than an Earth day so after a while the difference adds up.)

Parts of the Opportunity rover. (NASA/JPL)

The image was shared on Twitter by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory on Friday, Feb. 16. I took their greyscale composite and softened out some of the borders between the composite frames, adjusted the contrast and added coloration to make it look more Mars-like.

As the original images were captured with the Microscopic Imager and downsampled, they really aren’t all that detailed (unlike what Opportunity’s younger cousin Curiosity can achieve with its MAHLI camera)—the Microscopic camera is not meant for taking pictures of things that aren’t right up next to it. Typically it’s placed very close to its targets so it’s quite nearsighted. But you can obviously make out the structures of the rover, from its mast-mounted “head” to its flat solar array “wings” and even a bit of its front left wheel assembly there, and even its low-gain and high-gain antennas near the back.

(Also remember that Opportunity’s selfie is taken with a camera that was built before your average cell phone had one!)

Opportunity’s navigation camera (located on its head) captured an image of its arm-mounted turret in selfie position too:

Navcam view of Opportunity’s IDD and turret with its Microscopic Imager at center. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Now in its 15th year on Mars Opportunity is still running well and exploring, looking for evidence of ancient water environments within Endeavour Crater in the Meridiani Planum region (and even finding new surprises!) Opportunity has driven a little over 28.02 miles (45.1 km) since it landed in January of 2004 for what was originally planned as a 90-sol mission.

90. Now 5,000. Over 55 times longer than planned…now THAT’S some amazing engineering!

Follow along with the ongoing MER mission here.