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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An epic drive…

Opportunity has just completed one of her longest ever drives on Mars (I’m not sure what her longest was, I’ll have to check). She just completed a drive on Mars that was an amazing 132m long.

Now, that’s not a great distance for us. It’s literally a couple of minutes’ walk up the street, or to the park across the road. But for a 13 year old solar-powered rover, which was only meant to last for 90 days and travel up to a kilometre, on a planet that states “Killing machines sent from Earth” as its main hobby, it’s a great achievement, believe me.

Here’s Oppy’s ost recent view as she heads towards Perseverance Valley…

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She has also been using her RAT – or “Rock Abrasion Tool” – to clean off the surface of one of the rocks around her, to enable more detailed study of it. Here’s what she’s done…

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…and here’s a close-up of the RATted area…

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More later, I have to go to work!

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Opportunity’s view…

Opportunity is doing what any explorer and adventurer worth her salt would do – stopping, having a break, taking a good look around her, taking in the landscape, before continuing on to her main destination. Here are a couple of views I’ve made from the most recent images to come back…

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That’s a view of the “fresh” impact crater Opportunity spotted from the top of the hill and is now quite close to. Note: ignore the colour, it’s rubbish, I know. Just the best I could do quickly with the filter set that came down!

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A view back up the slope Opportunity has descended as she heads towards Perseverance Valley.

I don’t expect much to happen over the coming Easter weekend – I’ll be “away from keyboard” anyway (Google “AFK” younger readers!) – but I do expect we’ll see some images of the ancient gully itself next week, so check back then ok?

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Looking back…

…over Opportunity’s shoulder, we can see her wheel tracks leading down the hillside… I love images like this, they really show that Opportunity is a ROVER, driving across the surface of Mars, exploring and making discoveries…

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Some more new images for you…

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Dunes on Mars…

While we wait for new images to come back from Opportunity, I thought I’d share this…

These “ripples” might look like wet sand on a beach, made as the tide ebbed in and out, but they are actually dunes of very fine dust on the surface of Mars. This is a crop from a mosaic of several different images taken by the Curiosity rover, which I’ve processed to really bring out the delicate patterns and shapes. So, instead of being sculpted by water, these dunes – which are actually very small, probably no higher than a few centimetres tall – were made as the gentle martian winds blew dust blown around, over and between the rocks… beautiful, don’t you think?

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Curiosity’s sweeping view…

Not going to wax lyrical about this, just click on the image below, to enlarge it, and then enjoy scrolling around them, taking in all the features… just beautiful…

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Towards The Valley…

It’s now 8 years and 4 months since I started this blog. If you’ve been with me from the start, thank you! If you’ve only just found us, thank you too! It’s been a real labour of love – very hard work at times, always challenging, sometimes a real struggle because of, you know, real life…

Don’t worry, I’m not building up to a “…and it’s time to say goodbye” announcement! Far from it. I just wanted to check the date because the images that came down today, that I’ve been working with for the past couple of hours, have reminded me just why I love the MER mission so much. The view Oppy is enjoying right now is nothing less than beautiful, and today some images came back which allowed me to make a new colour view.

Hands up: my software and processing skills haven’t allowed me to do these images justice, or make the stunning panorama others will make from them in the hours and days ahead. I am, as I keep saying, just a fan, not a scientist, so my version is quite “quick and crude”… but I don’t care, I’ve done my best, and I’m just happy to still be able to promote and support the mission after all this time.

Let’s start with a black and white view first, shall we?

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…and now, a colour view…

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Now, you can see right away that that’s not right… it’s just too blue, too lavendar-hued. With a bit (OK, a lot!)  more work I managed to turn that into this

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Wow… that’s something, isn’t it? I love that view. THAT’s “my Mars”, right there.

I’m often asked, when I give my outreach talks in village halls, community centres and schools, how I can still be so enthusiastic about Opportunity and what she does, how I can still be so passionate about the work she is doing on Mars, how I can still, after all these years, be so dedicated and loyal to the mission and the people behind it.

I can show you exactly how and why I remain all those things, using just one image I made earlier today…

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8 years and 4 months… and every day something new, and amazing, and magical from Mars.

Who knows what wonders tomorrow will bring? 🙂

 

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Perseverance Valley spotted..?

As Opportunity continues to work her way downhill the view ahead and below is really opening up, allowing us to see both further to the horizon and down the side of Endeavour Crater. In fact, I think… I think… we can now see Perseverance Valley – maybe… perhaps… possibly… ish… ?

We’ll come back to that. Let’s backtrack just a little and look at the view Opportunity ws enjoying a couple of days ago…

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…and here’s the very latest view. I made this mosaic panorama by stitching together images which were posted online overnight last night…

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Let’s concentrate on the left hand side of that image, where it’s most interesting…

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That’s a lovely view, isn’t it? The gentle, curving sweep of the Endeavour rim. the dust dunes on the terrain up ahead, the distance-dimmed far horizon, just lovely…

…but as I said, I think… perhaps.. and I’m not sure about this at all, I have to be honest… we might finally be able to see Perseverance Valley snaking down to the crater floor. Let’s look at an orbital view of this section of Endeavour’s rim, with some prominent features labelled…

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…now let’s try matching those with the view Opportunity has… I’m sure of A – C… an we see Perseverance Valley now, too?

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Hmmm… I don’t know, I really don’t… looking at that image right now after posting it I swing between “Yes, definitely, that’s it…” and “I don’t know…” and then “No, no way…” and back again. What do you think? I am still very sure that visually Perseverance Valley is not going to be that striking, as it doesn’t seem very deep, but I might be wrong about that too. We won’t really know that until Opportunity drives up to the rim and looks over the edge before starting down towards the ancient gully itself. For now it’s just fun to speculate, isn’t it?

To end this post, a colourisation showing Oppy’s wheel tracks…

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