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Rover image captures Mars panorama

July 9, 2012 at 5:07 PM   |   Comments

GREENBELT, Md., July 9 (UPI) -- NASA has released a full-circle panoramic photo taken by its Opportunity rover of the martian surface it describes as the next best thing to being there.

The photo, a combination of 817 images, shows fresh rover tracks and an impact crater created millions of years ago at the location where the long-lived exploring rover spent its most recent martian winter, a NASA release reported.

The images were taken between Dec. 21 and May 8 from Opportunity's vantage point on an outcrop informally named "Greeley Haven," on a segment of the rim of the ancient Endeavour Crater.

"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, as well as a spectacularly detailed view of the largest impact crater that we've driven to yet with either rover over the course of the mission," said Jim Bell of Arizona State University, lead scientist for the rover's Pancam operations.

Opportunity and its twin, Spirit, landed on Mars in January 2004 for missions originally planned to last for three months.

NASA's next-generation Mars rover, Curiosity, is set to land on the Red Planet in August.

The rover's science team dubbed Opportunity's winter site Greeley Haven in tribute to Ronald Greeley, a team member who died in 2011 after teaching generations of planetary science students at Arizona State University.

"Ron Greeley was a valued colleague and friend, and this scene, with its beautiful wind-blown drifts and dunes, captures much of what Ron loved about Mars," Steve Squyres of Cornell University, principal investigator for the rovers Opportunity and Spirit, said.

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