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 around the outcrop where the long-lived explorer spent its most recent Martian winter. This scene recorded from the mast-mounted color camera includes the rover's own solar arrays and deck in the foreground, providing 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 (about 8 years)Martian day on July 2, and NASA continuing past 15 years of robotic presence at Mars. Mars Pathfinder landed July 4, 1997. NASA's Mars Global Surveyor orbiter reached the planet while Pathfinder was still active, and Global Surveyor overlapped the active missions of the Mars Odyssey orbiter and Opportunity, both still in service. It just shows that you can build something that is not planned for a quick change out.
The new panorama is online at http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA15689 . It is presented in false color to emphasize 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.
Endeavour is an impact crater located in Meridiani Planum on Mars. Endeavour is about 22 kilometers (14 mi) in diameter. Using Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter data, phyllosilicate-bearing outcrops have been detected along the rim of this crater. These minerals may have formed under wet conditions in a low-acidic environment during the early history of Mars. There are raised rim segments to the north, east, and southwest. The rim has become worn, rounded and degraded, with infilling of plains material in a manner similar to the Victoria crater.
When compared to the surrounding plains, the crater floor shows an enhanced spectral signature of basalt and hematite. The interior contains two groups of dune fields. Images taken since 2008 show evidence of changes in some of the associated formations, which may be evidence of active erosion by the martian wind over a period of two to three years.
"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, Tempe, Pancam lead scientist.
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. Through military duty, he was assigned to NASA’s Ames Research Center in 1967 where he worked in a civilian capacity in preparation for the Apollo missions to the Moon. He stayed on at NASA to conduct research in planetary geology.
"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, Ithaca, N.Y., principal investigator for Opportunity and Spirit.
For further information see Mars Panorama.
Endeavour image via NASA.