Posted by: Kash Farooq | February 27, 2011

Exploring Mars from the ground and from orbit

As you may or not know, there is a lot of activity around the planet Mars at the moment.

In 2003 NASA sent two robotic rovers, named Spirit and Opportunity, to Mars. The primary mission was a 90-day exploration of craters and other interesting features near the landing sites.

8 years later Opportunity is still functional. It is currently about half way to it’s next target of Endeavour crater. Unfortunately, Spirit got stuck in sand in 2009 and NASA last received contact from it in March 2010.

Since the robots have widely exceeded their expected lifetimes the programme has been extended. The rovers have performed many additional missions, exploring more of the terrain and sending back amazing images:

Opportunity panoramic image of the Santa Maria crater

NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity spends the seventh anniversary of its landing on Mars investigating a crater called "Santa Maria," which has a diameter about the length of a football field. Warning: full size image is 4 MB!

Click on the image to see the giant 4MB 14745 x 4000 pixel image. I really do recommend you do this. The detail that can be seen is amazing. If your bandwidth can’t handle that, try the much more bandwidth friendly 1230 x 336 pixel 50 KB image.

That’s another planet! A whole different world. And we’ve got robots on it!

There are also spaceships orbiting Mars. One of them is NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. It has a camera called the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) and it is able to see the rovers:

Opportunity Tracks

Opportunity Tracks, as seen by High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The "dots" are where the rover stopped to do some science.

And here is the image that accompanies the first image presented in this post. An image of the Opportunity rover perched at the edge of the Santa Maria crater:

Opportunity imaged from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter acquired this image of the Opportunity rover on the southwest rim of "Santa Maria" crater on New Year's Eve 2010, or Martian day (sol) 2466 of the rover's work on Mars. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

I love that image.



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