Welcome…

… to the “The Road To Endeavour”, a blog dedicated to following the ongoing mission of the Mars Exploration Rover ‘Opportunity’ as she explores the rim of the giant martian crater ‘Endeavour’!

Opportunity – or “Oppy” as many rover enthusiasts call her – landed on Mars eight years ago, and it was hoped at the time that she’d last maybe 90 days and drive up to a kilometre across the surface of Mars. Eight years later, having survived dust storms, mechanical problems and everything Mars can throw at her, Oppy is still working, and after driving to and studying several smaller craters further north, near her original landing site, she’s now studying a huge crater called “Endeavour”, analysing the rocks and dust there, trying to figure out if that part of Mars was once wetter, and warmer, and maybe even a possible habitat for life. Every day she takes, and sends back to Earth, photographs of the martian landscape, and this is where you’ll find them – original images and many I create myself, by stitching together raw images, colourising them or turning pairs of them into 3D “anaglyphs” which can give you the impresion of being *on* Mars…

This is actually a blog I wasn’t planning to write. I was planning on starting up a blog dedicated to the Mars Science Laboratory – NASA’s next mission to Mars – but when it was announced back in December 2008 the launch of MSL (the “Mars Science Laboratory”, or “Curiosity” to give her her proper name) had been put back from 2009 to 2011, so this is Plan B: a blog that I hoped would turn into a kind of travelogue, first following Opportunity’s long, loooong drive south to Endeavour crate and then chronicling her adventures once she got there – IF she got there…

Well, she not only got there, but since getting there she’s done some amazing science – and the best may yet be to come…

So, here’s the place to come for images of Endeavour Crater, as seen by Mars Reconaissance Orbiter and other probes, and by Oppy herself. It’s not meant to be serious, or particularly scientific, just a place to come for some interesting pictures and news updates, really. I hope you like what you find here, and keep checking for new images. 🙂

Stuart Atkinson

@mars-stu on Twitter

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Catching up again…

Apologies for the break in posting (if anyone noticed!), just been crazy busy with writing commitments and also Oppy’s view hasn’t been changing much to be honest. Time for a quick catch up today tho..

So, our brave gal – who is coming up to the 14th anniversary of her landing on Mars! – is still trundling around Perseverance Valley, on the inner slope of Endeavour Crater. She’s slowly working her way downhill, looking at the various twists and turns of the valley as it leads down to the crater floor below. As predicted waaaay back, the “valley” is much more of a gully, with quite low sides and not a huge amount of structure or vertical relief, but it’s still fascinating and new, and will produce a lot of great science in the weeks, months and years ahead. Here are some of the images I’ve been creating since the last update…

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Love that view of Opportunity#s tracks criss-crossing the ground…

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So, as best I can tell that’s Opportunity’s view looking down-slope, down Perseverance Valley, down towards the crater floor. If she rolls down into that dip there I think we’ll get some lovely views. Have to wait and see!

More soon, hopefully… thanks for stopping by!

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Sol 4,893…

A short “catch up” post just to reassure you all that this blog hasn’t folded; I’ve just been stupidly busy this past month, which included a two week-long camping/stargazing expedition… All is well, it was just a pause to do some stuff in the real world… 😉

So, Oppy is still going strong, and is still exploring Perseverance Valley. She is sending back images daily, or just about daily, and here are some of my recent processings, in advance of a longer, more detailed update in a few days…

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That’s a rather abstract view of Opportunity being lit by the low slanting rays of the setting Sun… hugely over-processed, obviously, I just liked the effect…

And this…

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…is a rather crazy view, showing one of Opportunity’s wheels hanging in mid-air! Unbelievable… I go away for two weeks, two WEEKS, and Opportunity starts believing she’s a beach buggy!!!

Check back for more news and images soon.

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Opportunity – still roving…

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I do a lot of astronomy and space exploration Outreach work – talks, observing nights etc – and it will surprise none of you to learn that one of the subjects I talk most about is Mars. There’s a lot of interest in Mars “out there”; thanks to films like “The Martian” , the recent NatGeo series “Mars” and science fiction in general, people are as fascinated by the red planet today as they have ever been. Which is great! But one thing I hear time and time again when I give my talks, or talk to people about Mars as I’m pointing it out in the sky, is: “Is that Mars rover still working?” But they don’t mean Opportunity, they mean Curiosity, either because they assume Opportunity died years ago, or because they didn’t even know about Opportunity in the first place. Boy, are they amazed to learn that there are not one but TWO rovers on Mars, and Opportunity has been there since 2004…!

And yes, I’ll admit it, that hacks me off.

I’ve thought for quite a while now that Opportunity isn’t given the credit she deserves, not by space reporters (with the notable exception of AJS Rayl, who writes brilliant updates on Opportunity’s ongoing mission every month on the Planetary Society blog), not by space websites or magazines, and certainly not by NASA. I have no doubt that NASA’s “Mars community” is full of love for Oppy, but I really don’t think those higher up feel the same.

What evidence have I got for this? Well, recently Opportunity passed another quite stunning milestone in her mission – she passed the 45km mark on her epic trek across Mars. Did NASA celebrate this? Did they put out even a press release? No. Nothing. Silence. Outside of the Mars community, Opportunity is the forgotten rover.

Which is very unfair and very wrong. Sure, Curiosity is doing very worthy science, and…now… sending back beautiful images, but the very fact that Opportunity is still working is incredible, an incredible achievement. But she’s not just “working”; she’s still going strong, still doing fantastic science. As you can see from the image at the top of this post, which I made by combining and then processing three images sent back by Oppy over the weekend – she is now exploring the meandering course of Perseverance Valley after not only reaching Endeavour crater but CLIMBING its rim, driving along it and then descending down the other side like some kind of intrepid mountaineer. What a story!

But is she – or the wonderful team behind her – getting any credit for this? No.

So, today I’m feeling a bit like this…

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The pic above is just a bit of fun, but I am genuinely frustrated and annoyed by this.

I think what made it worse was that last night, when I was browsing a new update of the image archives of the ESA Mars Express mission I came across this one…

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What’s so special about that? Well, if you look to the lower left, not quite at the bottom, you’ll see this…

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…and that top crater in the chain of three is Endeavour, the crater Opportunity is exploring right now… in the crop below I’ve turned things around so the crater is at the northern end of the chain and the “right way around”…

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Let’s put that into context. First, let’s remind ourselves where Opportunity’s landing site was in relation to the best-known features on Mars – the Mariner Valley and the Tharsis volcanoes… the yellow arrow guides you to it…

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On the next image I’ve shown a more detailed view of where Opportunity landed, picked out Victoria Crater – the beautiful big landmark crater she explored before setting off for Endeavour – and Endeavour itself, where she is now…

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An incredible journey, I’m sure you’ll agree. And, as I said earlier, Oppy has now driven a hugely impressive 45km across the surface of Mars – much further than the length of a marathon.

But when you zoom back out again, and look at the whole of the Mars Express frame, you realise just how tiny a part of Mars Opportunity has explored since landing all those years ago… and you can’t help but wonder what incredible sights we would have seen if she had landed a little further north, or south, or west, somewhere closer to one of the other spectacular features in this region…

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Of course, the area Opportunity landed in is fascinating to study, and Opportunity is currently carrying out a survey of Perseverance Valley, a channel running down the inner slope of Endeavour which might… might!… have been carved out by water a long, long time ago. Here’s my latest panoramic view…  think this is what Oppy sees looking over her shoulder, at her tracks leading back towards the top of her entry ramp…

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I want to finish this post by returning to my frustration with the lack of interest in Opportunity’s mission, and the lack of support for it from some quarters. I was delighted to see the opening titles of the new Star Trek series, “Star Trek: Discovery” feature Victoria Crater, which Oppy visited before Endeavour. You might recall that the opening titles of a previous Star Trek series, “Enterprise”, featured an animation of the Sojourner rover on Mars? So, this was a nice nod of appreciation to the exploration of Mars by rovers, I thought.

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If you don’t recognise Victoria from that image, this will help…

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Check back for more on Opportunity’s continuing mission…

To seek out strange new rocks, and new geological features…

To boldly go where no rover has gone before…

🙂

 

 

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Two views of Mars…

Browsing the always-brilliant “Midnight Planets” website earlier I found quite a few images – sent back by Opportunity and Curiosity – that could be stitched together to make panoramic views… so I stitched them together to make panoramic views… 😉 Here, then, are two views of Mars taken by a pair of rovers many, many miles apart. One planet, two rovers, two very different landscapes… Curiosity’s view (top) shows the mountainous rim of Gale Crater from the inside, while Opportunity’s view (middle) shows part of the meandering Perseverance Valley from within it, with, as an added treat, a colourised crop from it (bottom)…

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2017 9-11 Anniversary

Today, on the 16th anniversary of the 9-11 attacks, it’s good to remember that both Mars Exploration Rovers were fitted with small pieces of the wreckage from the fallen World Trade Centres, as tributes to those who were murdered. Today, on Mars, Opportunity will no doubt, at some point, hold hers up against the pink martian sky in silent salute to the thousands of people who died on that terrible day. I also like to think of it as defiantly sticking up a finger at the scum who carried out the atrocities.

Opportunity, and her sister Spirit, are illustrations of how different people can be. On 9-11 ignorant scum chose to use modern technology to butcher innocent, terrified people. Today, on Mars, Opportunity, built by people who valued science, discovery and curiosity, is carrying a piece of the towers they toppled, proof that for all the evil and wickedness in some people’s hearts many, many more dedicate their lives to helping others and helping our species grow by exploring, by pushing back boundaries and by facing the unknown and the different with wonder-filled eyes instead of hate-filled hearts.

Give some people a box full of wires, circuits and other parts and they will make a bomb. Give others the same box and they will make an MRI scanner, a wheelchair or a Mars rover. And that’s the difference between us, and them. In a thousand years, when Opportunity is on display in the Museum of Mars, long after the fundamentalist lunatics have been forgotten, that small piece of the World Trade Centre will still be there for everyone to see – proof that no matter how cruel they are, how violent they are, how evil they are, people who carry out wicked attacks like that will never, ever, win.

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Processing: Stuart Atkinson  Original images: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Cornell

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No rush…

Not much to see really from Opportunity recently, hence the lack of posts. She’s just idling down Perseverance Valley, taking her time, not rushing. Consequently the view hasn’t been changing much from day to day. But I’ve made a few images from the frames that have come back…

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Vera Rubin Ridge

While we wait for more images to come back from Opportunity, I thought you might like to see a panoramic mosaic I’ve processed out of around 50 images sent back by the Mars Science Laboratory, Curiosity. This is a view of Vera Rubin Ridge. I hope you’ll click on it to enlarge it then just pan around it, exploring…

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