Red rover’s Santa Maria visions

MRO image of Opportunity rover at Santa Maria crater

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter acquired this colour image on March 9, 2011, of the 90-metre-wide "Santa Maria" crater, showing the rover Opportunity (arrowed) perched on the southeast rim.

NASA’S MARS ROVER Opportunity has nearly completed its three-month examination of a crater informally named “Santa Maria”.

But before the rover resumes its overland trek, an orbiting camera has provided a colour image of the intrepid rover beside Santa Maria.

The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter acquired the image on March 1, while Opportunity was extending its robotic arm to take close-up photos of a rock called “Ruiz Garcia.”

From orbit, the tracks Opportunity made as it approached the crater from the west are clearly visible. Santa Maria crater is about 90 metres in diameter.

March 1 corresponded to the 2,524th Martian day, or sol, of Opportunity’s work on Mars. A raw image (below) from Opportunity’s front hazard-avoidance camera from the same day shows the arm extended out to investigate a rock. And to complete the scale of imaging, another raw image (below)—taken by Opportunity’s microscopic imager on the same day—shows a close-up image of the rock’s surface.

View from Opportunity's front hazard-avoidance camera

The view from Opportunity's front hazard-avoidance camera, showing its robot arm extended to a nearby rock.

Opportunity close-up image of a rock

An imager on the end of Opportunity's robot arm took this close-up image of the rock seen in the other image.

Opportunity has been studying the relatively fresh Santa Maria crater to better understand how crater excavation occurred during the impact and how it has been modified by weathering and erosion since.

Visible in the overhead view are bright blocks and rays of ejecta surrounding the crater. (Ejecta is the debris thrown outwards by the force of the impact that formed the crater.)

Opportunity will soon resume a long-term trek toward a much larger crater, Endeavour, about six kilometres away.

Opportunity completed its three-month prime mission on Mars in April 2004 and has been working in extended mission status since then. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which arrived at Mars on March 10, 2006, has also completed its prime mission and is operating in an extended mission.

Adapted from information issued by NASA / JPL-Caltech / Univ. of Arizona.

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