NASA may have declared its Opportunity rover lost, but we’ll always have its data and bank of raw images. The mission team has now processed an incredible panorama from these files for your viewing pleasure. You can see it below and scroll around a larger version on the NASA press page.
Opportunity, along with its partner, Spirit, launched in 2003 as part of the Mars Exploration Rover program to study Mars’ surface. Over nearly 15 years, it traversed more than 45km of Red Planet before ultimately meeting its end during a planet-wide snowstorm last June. Oppy gave us an understanding of what Mars truly looks like and found evidence that the planet was once wet.
One important part of the mission was sharing images with the public as they came out — a practice that has now become standard for space agencies — and it has had a big impact on the way we conceive of Mars. This latest panorama is like a greatest hits of the Red Planet, containing Mars’ signature reddish rocks, the rim of Endeavour Crater, pieces of Opportunity itself, and views of its tracks. The Rover’s Panoramic Camera, or Pancam, took the 354 photos in the image from May 13 to June 10. NASA also produced a 3D-version of the panorama, viewable through blue-and-red 3D glasses.
If you look at the raw images that came from Opportunity, you’ll notice that they’re all black-and-white. The Pancam contains filters in order to view light as only a single wavelength, or colour, so these black-and-white images correspond to light received by the camera in only one colour. For these images, the filters block out all light except for three wavelengths: 753 nanometres (near-infrared), 535 nanometres (green), and 432 nanometres (violet).
If you combine these images by putting each one into the red, green, or blue colour channel, you can see an approximate true-colour image of what Mars looks like. You can learn more about how NASA turns raw files into full-colour images for the general public here.
Opportunity might be dead, but there are tons of raw images left cataloguing its incredible journey across the Martian surface. I’ve had some fun playing with them in Photoshop, and I encourage you to do the same.