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NASA's Mars rovers deliver to us amazing images from the surface of the Red Planet

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Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist, theweathernetwork.com

Saturday, August 2, 2014, 12:47 PM - While the primary purpose of NASA's two robot rovers - Opportunity and Curiosity - is to conduct science and make amazing discoveries (and they have both undoubtedly succeeded in that), they also send back incredible pictures to wow us and keep us wanting more!

Since she's been on the planet longer, and in honour of her setting a new record for off-world driving record of 40 kilometres this week, let's start with Opportunity. This golf-cart sized rover is well into her 10th year on Mars and is still going quite strong (despite the rough Martian environment).

Here's some of her more recent returns.

Click the image to see the massive, 63 million pixel version:

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ.

Taken on May 14, 2014 - her 3,663rd Sol (Martian day) - this is a panoramic view from Pillinger Point, overlooking the floor of Endeavour Crater. According to the NASA website: "The site became a destination for Opportunity to examine because observations from orbit indicated the presence of a clay mineral named montmorillonite, which forms under wet conditions." Below is the false-colour version, which shows off the details of the terrain better, and if you happen to have some red-cyan 3D glasses, you can see a 3D version as well.

Click the image to see the massive, 63 million pixel version:

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ.

When Opportunity broke the off-world driving record, she displaced a Russian rover that set the previous record on the moon, back in 1973. In honour of that, and in the spirit of scientific commeradrie with their Russian counterparts, Opportunity's handlers named a nearby crater after the lunar rover. Say 'hello' to Mars crater Lunokhod 2!

PIA18416
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/Arizona State Univ.

There's false-colour and 3D versions of this one too. One of the most amazing things to happen to Opportunity recently was that most of the dust that had been collecting on her solar panels was blown off by the Martian wind. This resulted in an increase in power to levels the rover hasn't enjoyed since 2008! Here are the before (from January) and after (late March) images she snapped:

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ.

If you'd like to see more images from Opportunity, you can find them on NASA's website (click here).

NEXT PAGE: The latest from Curiosity

Curiosity - the bigger, nuclear-powered 'cousin' of Opportunity - has been on Mars for just shy of 2 Earth years. In that time, it has already completed its primary mission, having determined that Gale Crater once had an environment that would have been favourable to life as we know it. Along with this and other discoveries, the rover sends back images on a daily basis.

Click the image to see the full 360-degree version

Credit:NASA/JPL-Caltech/S.Sutherland

The photos that went into making this stitched-together panorama were shot a few months ago. Prominent in the middle of the photo is Mt. Sharp, the large central peak of Gale Crater, which Curiosity is making for and will eventually climb to investigate the different layers of rock up the side of the mountain. This will give scientists here on Earth clues to how Mars' environment changed over time, as it lost much of its atmosphere and it became more cold and barren.

Recently, Curiosity's team decided to alter the rover's route slightly, because she was taking damage to her wheels from the sharp, unweathered rocks that were along its path. Driving over a sand dune in what was called Dingo's Gap, the rover captured this impressive view.


Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Emily Lakdawalla

Other pictures Curiosity has taken invoke an incredible shift of perspective. Seeing a sunset here on Earth can be very pretty, but how many times do you get to see one on another planet?!

Also, Curiosity didn't avoid all the big rocks by taking its altered route. She drove right past this one near the end of May.


Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/IRAP/LPGNantes/CNRS/IAS/MSSS

This rock, named 'Lebanon' by the rover team, is a large iron meteorite, roughly 2 metres long. The inset images were taken by Curiosity's ChemCam, which is at the end of her arm. Another meteorite, which was named Littleton, was seen lying a short distance away. These meteorites may be part of the original impactor that formed Gale Crater, where the rover is located.

Curiosity's Sol-to-Sol images, from all of her various cameras, are available on the JPL website (click here), and they appear regularly in the blog posts of The Planetary Society.


CHECK BACK EACH DAY!: We may have suffered a technical problem on Friday, but this is unofficial 'Mars Week' here on www.theweathernetwork.com. We'll be featuring stories each day about the Red Planet and our efforts to explore it, all leading up to celebrating the 2nd Earth anniversary of Curiosity's 'Seven Minutes of Terror' landing.


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