Spring time on Mars: First image from Nasa's Rover Opportunity

By Rob Waugh

Nasa's Mars Rover Opportunity recently 'woke up' from a winter-long 'sleep' where it couldn't charge its solar panels - but even while it rested, it found time to capture a spectacular image of the 14-mile-wide Endeavour crater, the largest the robot vehicle has explored.

A view captured by Opportunity before starting its first drive of 2012

The Rover even 'sees itself' using its panoramic camera - Pancam - as it took the mosaic image between 4.30 and 5pm, local time on Mars. Most of the component images were recorded during the 2,888th Martian day, or sol, of Opportunity's work on Mars. Opportunity had spent 19 weeks stuck in one place to 'weather out' the dark months of the Martian winter on an outcrop called Greeley Haven.
At that time, Opportunity was spending low-solar-energy weeks of the Martian winter at the Greeley Haven outcrop on the Cape York segment of Endeavour's western rim.

Opportunity has worked through four Martian southern hemisphere winters since it landed in in January 2004 about 14 miles northwest of its current location.

Closer to the equator than its twin rover, Spirit, Opportunity has not needed to stay on a sun-facing slope during the previous winters.

Now, however, Opportunity's solar panels carry a thicker coating of dust, and the team is using a strategy employed for three winters with Spirit: staying on a sun-facing slope.

In order to give the mosaic a rectangular aspect, some small parts of the edges of the mosaic and sky were filled in with parts of an image acquired earlier as part of a 360-degree panorama from the same location.

Opportunity has been studying the western rim of Endeavour Crater since arriving there in August 2011. This crater spans 14 miles , or about the same area as the city of Seattle. This is more than 20 times wider than Victoria Crater, the largest impact crater that Opportunity had previously examined. The interior basin of Endeavour is in the upper half of this view.

The view is presented in false colour to make some differences between materials easier to see, such as the dark sandy ripples and dunes on the crater's distant floor.

© Daily Mail, London

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Spring time on Mars: First image from Nasa's Rover Opportunity


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