When NASA's Opportunity rover landed on Mars in 2004, it settled at the bottom of a crater in an interplanetary hole-in-one shot that would make even a golf champion jealous. When the rover trundled out of its unexpected hole, it left behind its landing platform. Now, 13 years later, we've caught our best glimpse yet of this historic landing site and the crap NASA left behind.
Opportunity's landing platform can be seen squarely inside Eagle Crater, at top right. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona)
This new image was captured by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) on 10 April 2017. Eagle Crater and the discarded landing platform can be seen at top right.
(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona)
We've blown it up for a better look (below). Eagle Crater measures about 22m in diameter, and is located in the Meridiani Planum region of Mars.
Yep, still there after 13 years. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona)
NASA also provided an annotated version:
A black and white image of the site was captured in 2006 by MRO, but this new colour view is a substantial improvement. In a press release, NASA explains how the 25 January 2004 landing transpired:
The airbag-cushioned lander, with Opportunity folded-up inside, first hit Martian ground near the crater, then bounced and rolled right into the crater. The lander structure was four triangles, folded into a tetrahedron until after the airbags deflated. The triangular petals then opened, exposing the rover. A week later, the rover drove off, and the landing platform's job was done.
Prior to scooting off, Opportunity managed to take this rather stunning picture of the landing platform, a site now known as the Challenger Memorial Station.
More than a decade later, Opportunity is still romping around Mars, and is now working about 44km away from its landing site. No word yet on when NASA is planning to dispatch a Mars-bound clean-up crew to pick up after itself -- but probably not. Humans love leaving behind space junk.