THE ROBOTIC MARS ROVER SPIRIT GAVE UP THE GHOST BACK in 2010, but its twin, the solar-powered explorer Opportunity, has managed to survive yet another harsh, sunlight-starved Martian winter.
The intrepid droid patiently sat idle for several months on a sloped outcrop unofficially called “Greeley Haven” in tribute to Ronald Greeley (1939-2011), a member of the mission team and professor at Arizona State University, Tempe. Long-term parking on this north-facing spot allowed Opportunity to angle its solar panels toward the distant sun, absorbing every precious photon not obscured by the years of dust accumulated on its photovoltaic array. Taking advantage of the Rover’s static position, NASA assembled this beautiful 360-degree panorama (middle facing north) from 817 separate images taken with its Pancam camera over a four-month period. “The view provides rich geologic context for the detailed chemical and mineral work that the team did at Greeley Haven over the Rover’s fifth Martian winter,” says Pancam lead scientist Jim Bell of Arizona State University, Tempe. Not bad for a Rover still operating eight full years after its planned 90-day mission ended.