'Opportunity' Rover Snaps Stunning Panoramic Shot of Mars' Landscape

By Chelsea Whyte on July 10, 2012 12:53 AM EDT

nasa rover mars panorama
This full-circle scene combines 817 images taken by the panoramic camera (Pancam) on NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity. It shows the terrain that surrounded the rover while it was stationary for four months of work during its most recent Martian winter. (Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/Arizo)

A stunning new panoramic view of Mars has been beamed home, giving us a glimpse of the Red Planet's beautifully barren landscape.

This scene of the Martian winter comes from the color camera (Pancam) mounted on the Mars Rover "Opportunity", whose solar arrays and deck can be seen in the foreground of the shot overlooking a place called Greeley Haven. The solar panels at the left and right bottom of the image show an accumulation of dust since the craft landed on January 2004, which has further lowered the amount of energy produced by the panels, reports The Los Angeles Times. Opportunity completed its 3,000th day on Mars last week.

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"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 Pancam lead scientist Jim Bell of Arizona State University, Tempe.

Fresh rover tracks in the background lead to an impact crater created billions of years ago by some wayward space rock crashing into the planet.

The shot was assembled like a large puzzle from 817 separate images taken between December 2011 and May 2012 while Opportunity was stationed on an outcrop for the winter.

While there are varying shades of red (and even some blue) in the Mars panorama, the image is actually a false-color view. Its colors were added artificially to "enhance the differences between materials in the scene," reports Fox News.

The team overseeing Opportunity named the rover's campsite Greeley Haven in tribute to Ronald Greeley, a team member who taught generations of planetary science students at Arizona State University and passed away in 2011.

"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 its twin rover, Spirit.

North is at the center of the image, and because it's a panorama, South is at both ends. On the far left at the horizon is "Rich Morris Hill," informally named in memory of an aerospace engineer and Mars rover team member.

The interior of the 14-mile-wide Endeavour Crater can been seen just below the horizon on the right and the bright deposit at the center of the image 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.

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