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An Opportunity From Above

To commemorate the 12th anniversary of NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter at Mars (March 10, 2006) and the still-roving Opportunity, below is an edited version of an article I wrote back in 2011 showing Opportunity imaged by MRO’s HiRISE camera.

NASA’s Opportunity rover on the edge of Santa Maria crater imaged by HiRISE on March 1, 2011.

The eye in the sky sees all…especially when that eye is the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter! Here’s an image of a crater known as Santa Maria, taken from over 150 miles above the Martian surface by the MRO…and if you look carefully at the lower right portion of the crater rim you can see a small grey object that casts a bit of a shadow. That’s the rover Opportunity, which has been investigating the area around Santa Maria for the past several months and was using its robotic arm to take close-up shots of a small nearby rock when the image above was acquired.

I wonder if she got the feeling that she was being watched. 😉

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Mars à la Ansel Adams

Opportunity panorama of Santa Maria Crater rim. © Stuart Atkinson.

 

As Opportunity wraps up her stay at Santa Maria crater, Stuart Atkinson leaves us with this wonderful “Ansel Adams style” panorama of the crater’s rim and dune-carpeted interior.

“I’m very, very jealous of the people who will one day make a pilgrimage to this very spot, and stand on the jagged, crumbling edge of Santa Maria, beside a monument commemorating Opportunity’s visit, marvelling at the rover’s achievements…”

– Stu Atkinson, The Road to Endeavour

The last fully operating rover on Mars, Opportunity approached Santa Maria around the New Year 2010 and spent the past several months since exploring around its rim. But now it’s time for her to move on, to hit the sands of Meridiani Plains once again in her trek to the massive Endeavour Crater. Not much between Santa Maria and Endeavour besides the low rolling dunes of the Plains, but who knows… there may yet be some hidden treats along the way for her to turn her electronic eyes to.

Only one way to find out…

Godspeed and good luck, Oppy!

Image: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Stuart Atkinson

Read on LightsInTheDark.com

An Opportunity From Above

The MRO catches a glimpse of Opportunity from orbit on March 1, 2011

The eye in the sky sees all…especially when that eye is the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter! Here’s another great image – this time in color! – of the crater known as Santa Maria, taken from over 150 miles above the Martian surface by the MRO…and if you look carefully at the lower right portion of the crater rim you can see a small grey object that casts a bit of a shadow. That’s the rover Opportunity, which has been investigating the area around Santa Maria for the past several months and was using its robotic arm to take close-up shots of a small nearby rock when the image above was acquired.

Opportunity's view of Santa Maria crater. By Stu Atkinson.

I wonder if she got the feeling that she was being watched. 😉

On the left side of the image the rover’s tracks can be seen in the darker Martian soil extending off-frame. (For a full-size view of the area click here...the tracks are more obvious there.)

Opportunity is currently the only active robotic explorer on the surface of Mars. It has been steadily traveling across the relatively flat Meridiani Plains region toward the much larger Endeavour Crater, stopping occasionally to investigate interesting features such as rock outcroppings, standing meteorites and various craters – such as Santa Maria.

Opportunity completed its three-month prime mission on Mars in April 2004 and has been working extended missions since then. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which arrived at Mars on March 10, 2006, has also completed its prime mission and is currently operating an extended mission.

Opportunity’s sister rover, Spirit, fell silent over eleven months ago after becoming stuck in loose sand and losing its ability to maneuver. MER team engineers have been trying to regain contact with Spirit ever since but no signal has been detected as of yet. Opportunity, on the other hand, is fully operational and in good roving form. Not bad for a little ‘bot that was originally intended for a 90-day mission! She’s making us proud, working away all alone on Mars.

Well, not alone…she’s got a friend in the sky above who keeps a good eye on her. 🙂

Image: NASA / JPL / University of Arizona

P.S. Be sure to check out The Road to Endeavour for updates on Opportunity’s progress and the latest images!

Roving the Edge

Opportunity at the edge of Santa Maria crater

Here’s a great view of Santa Maria crater made from a couple of raw images from the Opportunity rover, taken earlier this month and assembled by Stu Atkinson. (I did take the liberty of cropping the original image a bit and filling in some of the sky at upper right.)  I particularly like the texture of the wind-sculpted dunes in the crater’s floor…with the sun illuminating the scene at a low angle from the left, the relief is very nicely accentuated. The dark area in the center is a result of combining two images together to make a panorama.

For an illustration of the scale of Santa Maria crater click here.

Santa Maria crater is Opportunity’s latest target of interest on her way across the sandy dunes of Mars’ Meridiani Plain towards the 13.7-mile-wide Endeavour Crater. In the tradition of naming Opportunity’s recently found craters after nautical vessels this particular excavation is named for one of Columbus’ three ships that sailed from Spain in 1492. To continue it further, the exploration rover team has been naming individual rocks and surface features around Santa Maria after members of Columbus’ crew.

For more images and updates from Opportunity visit Stu’s site The Road to Endeavour.

Image: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Stuart Atkinson

P.S.: For a really nicely lit portrait of Santa Maria crater, click here. It was assembled by unmanned spaceflight member “vikingmars” and really gives a nice sense of perspective of the entire scene!

Photo Trivia

What's this?

In the tradition of Universe Today’s “Where in the Universe” series, here’s a little space exploration-based photo trivia for you: what is pictured in the above image? It’s something that many of you are already familiar with, and it’s not outside of our solar system…..but that’s all the clues I’m giving! 🙂

I know one person who should really know the answer, let’s see if they respond!

If you have a guess, post it in the comments here. I’ll update with the answer later this week. It’s actually pretty cool. And like Nancy Atkinson always says, give yourself extra points if you can guess the spacecraft responsible for the image, but don’t give overly-detailed explanations or links so everyone has a chance to guess. Good luck!

Answer:

Most of you were on the right planet, and those of you who guessed Mars rover – congratulations! This is indeed a photo of Opportunity on the edge of Santa Maria crater, taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s HiRISE camera on December 31, 2010. I zoomed in quite a bit, so it’s hard to make out much detail on the rover but I’m thinking that we can see sunlight on the rover’s three right wheels as well as the dark-colored solar panel in the image above. Below is the original image, labeled by the HiRISE team at the University of Arizona.

Opportunity seen from Mars orbit. NASA / JPL / University of Arizona

And for updated images from Opportunity be sure to visit The Road to Endeavour, Stuart Atkinson’s dedicated blog documenting the rover’s ongoing trek across the Martian plain. Thanks for participating in LITD’s first Photo Trivia, I’ll do another one again soon!

 

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