05 January 2006

Roving On and On...

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day features a gorgeous new mosaic from the red planet.

The Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, will go down in history with distinction, being one of the most rewarding planetary science efforts ever undertaken. Originally designed for a mere 90 days apiece of Martian surface exploration and data collection, the robotic wanderers have surpassed any and all expectations for longevity and quality scientific return. Spirit and Opportunity have both marked impressive milestones in the last two months, each celebrating over one Martian year of successful surface operations.

Aided by unforseen cleaning events which have kept the MERs' solar panels from accumulating the expected amount of the red planet's dust, as well as absolutely brilliant program management and engineering, Spirit and Opportunity both continue their treks across the inhospitable environment of Mars, yielding a veritable wealth of imagery and data -- enough to keep planetary scientists busy for years.

Below are two new & noteworthy press releases.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell
(View Press Release)

This bird's-eye view combines a self-portrait of the spacecraft deck and a panoramic mosaic of the Martian surface as viewed by NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit. The rover's solar panels are still gleaming in the sunlight, having acquired only a thin veneer of dust two years after the rover landed and commenced exploring the red planet. Spirit captured this 360-degree panorama on the summit of "Husband Hill" inside Mars' Gusev Crater. During the period from Spirit's Martian days, or sols, 583 to 586 (Aug. 24 to 27, 2005), the rover's panoramic camera acquired the hundreds of individual frames for this largest panorama ever photographed by Spirit.

This image is an approximately true-color rendering using the camera's 750-nanometer, 530-nanometer and 480-nanometer filters for the Martian surface, and the 600-nanometer, 530-nanometer, and 480-nanometer filters for the rover deck. This polar projection is a compromise between a cylindrical projection ( #1; #2), which provides the best view of the terrain, and a vertical projection, which provides the best view of the deck but distorts the terrain far from the rover. The view is presented with geometric seam correction.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell
(View Press Release)

The panoramic camera on NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit took the hundreds of images combined into this 360-degree view, the "Husband Hill Summit" panorama. The images were acquired on Spirit's sols 583 to 586 (Aug. 24 to 27, 2005), shortly after the rover reached the crest of "Husband Hill" inside Mars' Gusev Crater. This is the largest panorama yet acquired from either Spirit or Opportunity. The panoramic camera shot 653 separate images in 6 different filters, encompassing the rover's deck and the full 360 degrees of surface rocks and soils visible to the camera from this position. This is the first time the camera has been used to image the entire rover deck and visible surface from the same position. Stitching together of all the images took significant effort because of the large changes in resolution and parallax across the scene.

The image is an approximately true-color rendering using the 750-nanometer, 530-nanometer and 480-nanometer filters for the surface, and the 600-nanometer and 480-nanometer filters for the rover deck. Image-to-image seams have been eliminated from the sky portion of the mosaic to better simulate the vista a person standing on Mars would see.

This panorama provided the team's first view of the "Inner Basin" region (center of the image), including the enigmatic "Home Plate" feature seen from orbital data. After investigating the summit area, Spirit drove downhill to get to the Inner Basin region. Spirit arrived at the summit from the west, along the direction of the rover tracks seen in the middle right of the panorama. The peaks of "McCool Hill" and "Ramon Hill" can be seen on the horizon near the center of the panorama. The summit region itself is a broad, windswept plateau. Spirit spent more than a month exploring the summit region, measuring the chemistry and mineralogy of soils and rocky outcrops at the peak of Husband Hill for comparison with similar measurements obtained during the ascent.

For more ongoing coverage of the MERs, be sure to visit The Planetary Society's indepth look at this phenomenal mission.



Blogger Wolverine said...

Addendum: here's the latest MER Status report. Good timing on the release. :)

11:32 PM CST  

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