Eight years on, the Opportunity rover is still prodding Mars with its bevy of instruments. Of these instruments, the Pancam camera is the one that provides us common folk with the most direct contact with the red planet -- at least, the best we'll have in our lifetime. This monster image, compiled from 817 shots from the rover between December 21, 2011 and May 8, 2012, delivers one of the most breathtaking visuals yet of the distant Martian surface.
The pictures were taken while the rover parked itself over the planet's winter, where it can get as cold as -140°C. (Melbourne seem like a paradise in comparison.) The original, ginormous image can be found on that NASA website, but be warned, it's 23,096 x 7981 pixels in size and weighs in at 13MB. And that's the JPEG -- the lossless TIFF is over 550MB.
As for the contents of the image itself, NASA pulls out the major features:
North is at the center of the image. South is at both ends. On the far left at the horizon is "Rich Morris Hill." That outcrop on Cape York was informally named in memory of John R. "Rich" Morris (1973-2011), an aerospace engineer and musician who was a Mars rover team member and mission manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena.
Bright wind-blown deposits on the left are banked up against the Greeley Haven outcrop. Opportunity's tracks can be seen extending from the south, with a turn-in-place and other maneuvers evident from activities to position the rover at Greeley Haven. The tracks in some locations have exposed darker underlying soils by disturbing a thin, bright dust cover.
Simply amazing stuff. While I doubt I'll ever step foot on Mars, it's exciting to think my descendants might. Maybe one of them can draw "Wash me" on Opportunity's solar panels.
Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/Arizona State Univ.