NASA has released an incredible, panoramic picture of the surface of Mars, taken by the Mars Exploration Rover known as Opportunity, which gives us a glimpse of what we would see if we were sat on top of the vehicle itself.
Opportunity has been on Mars since 2004, and it celebrated its 3000th day exploring the planet on July 2nd. The picture isn’t one single image, but one that has been created from 817 different pictures, snapped between the end of December last year and early this May.
Once digitally stitched together, a photographic technique called “false color” was applied to assist astronomers in identifying features and materials that could otherwise have been missed. NASA has provided a pair of high resolution versions for you to download here.
The rover was perched on Greeley Haven, an outcrop overlooking the 14-mile wide Endeavour Crater, where it was spending its fifth Martian winter, when it took the pictures. What you’re seeing in the foreground is Opportunity’s solar panels — not, sadly, a martian city — while on the far left is Rich Morris Hill.
Tracks left by the rover’s trip to a dusty patch which NASA named the North Pole –due north is dead ahead in the picture — are clearly visible, and the false color method reveals different soil underneath the top layer.
Capturing this complex image wasn’t Opportunity’s only task during its stay at Greeley Haven, as it was also monitoring atmospheric and surface changes, plus providing data to help scientists understand the interior structure of the planet.
Opportunity is one of two rovers on Mars, but Spirit became stranded last year on the opposite side of the planet, and was given its last rites. However, Opportunity is soon to be joined by Curiosity, a new rover expected to land in August.
Right now though, studying this amazing panoramic view of Mars is the next best thing to being there.