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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Opportunity almost on top of the world…

Overnight some new images came back from Opportunity showing that although she hadn’t trundled over it and onto higher, flatter ground, she had rolled right up to the top edge of the steep slope she has been edging up for what seems like an age now. And from her new vantage point not only can she see the mouth of Marathon Valley, which she dropped down into all those months ago, but can also see… finally… the beautiful faraway horizon…

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Oh, it is SO good to see that horizon again! The Valleys have been fascinating places to explore, undoubtedly, and have given the team some great science and given all of us some wonderful views too. But for months now Oppy has been a bit, well, hemmed in, with rocky walls on both sides as she zig-zagged her way down and then up out of Marathon Valley, and the scenery has been getting a bit, well… samey.

Since heading up from the crater floor, Opportunity has been a bit like a hill-walker who has been huffing and puffing her way up a hillside, eyes fixed on the route ahead, and the summit even further ahead. Now she has reached the final gate standing between her and the top of the hill and, understandably, has stopped to catch her breath and take a quick look around before pushing on the last few metres to the top.

And now Opportunity is almost back on the top of Cape Tribulation she can see, as The Who famously sang, for miles and miles and miles and miles and miiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiles…

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The stunning image above is the work of image processing expert James Sorenson whose processing skills make me look like a kid playing about on an old ZX Spectrum. James specialises in stitching multiple images together to make beautiful panoramic views. He then adds a realistic sky to finish off the effect, and his work is amazing as you can see.

What I really love about the images that came down overnight is how they show the entrance to Marathon Valley off to Opportunity’s right. It’s quite exciting, I think, to be able to look back and see the feature Opportunity drove down into, all those months ago, from a different viewpoint. On the two pane collage below you can see Marathon Valley as it appeared to Oppy before she drove down into it way back on Sol 4078, in July 2015…

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That image on the left is a black and white crop from one of my own favourite images, shown below – a multi-frame colourised mosaic I made more than two years ago…

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Hopefully the next batch of images sent back by Opportunity will show she has finally rolled up out of the valley conpletely…

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Get on with it, Oppy…!

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Alright, Opportunity, enough. Stop grandstanding and messing about, and just drive the last few metres up that slope and roll up onto the top of the hill so you can have a well-earned rest and we can all enjoy the view from there…!

She hasn’t got far to go now, surely… here’s the view upslope a couple of days ago, which I haven’t had a chance to post until today, sorry… I reckon Oppy is right on the lip of that crest now, ready to tip over it and roll triumphantly onto the top of the hill again…

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I think the next batch of images sent back by Oppy will show she’s just one more drive away from leaving the valleys behind her and setting off south again, towards The Gully With No Name. Hopefully some pics will come down later today, and if they do I’ll be sure to update this post or, if there’s time, write a new one. Check back later. In the meantime, here, have a stitched together and processed mosaic of four really close-up images taken by Opportunity of the ground at her feet…

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Meanwhile, Curiosity is doing great work round at Gale Crater and sending back really pretty views of the rocks around her…

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One rock in particular caught my eye…

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…and when I looked more closely at other images sent back by Curiosity I was struck by how it was possible to do a kind of reverse “Powers Of Ten” with that one rock. So, here you are, a present to lose yourself in on a lazy Sunday… click on it to enlarge it, and as you do just take in the scale of what you’re looking at here. From L to R: a single greyish rock on the surface of Mars (top of frame), with countless millions of rocks scattered around it as far as the eye can see… then you see the rock itself, isolated on the surface… then you see the surface of the rock, with knobs, nobbles and dimples… then you see a close-up of one of those dimples… then, finally, a close-up of individual grains of martian dust and rock gathered in that dimple, blown there by the martian wind over who knows how any millions of years….

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More later 🙂

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One more push…

…and Opportunity should finally be out of the valleys and back up on top of Cape Tribulation; the latest images show she is just one good drive away from reaching the top of the slope she has been chugging up these past few weeks, and later today, or more likely tomorrow, we should be able to see the path ahead, south towards The Gully With No Name…

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Meanwhile, Curiosity has reached the edge of the last great dune field between her and the actual base of Mt Sharp, and the photos she has been sending back are quite beautiful, showing exquisitely-fine detail on the surfaces of the dunes, carved and sculpted by the whispering martian wind… here are my processed versions of a couple of those images…

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Whilst looking at those images I saw one which appeared to show Curiosity’s robot arm trailing through the dust, and it looked – and felt – very familiar, prompting me to make this…

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Check back for more news on Oppy – and Curiosity, because I’m going to keep featuring that rover more now, now that it has reached some truly breathtaking scenery – soon…

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Different views…

Opportunity is continuing to work her way back up the eastern side of Cape Tribulation, in advance of going “over the top” and heading back down onto the Meridiani Plain, then rolling south at speed to The Gully. Here are some of her latest views…

Note: all original MER images Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Cornell

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I know what you’re thinking – “That would look better in colour…” Oh, ok, here you go…

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Looking back the other way you can see how Oppy has tracked uphill by following her tracks in the dust…

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But whereabouts is Opportunity now? Below is a very high resolution image I’ve made using NASA’s HiVIEW software and a HiRISE image of Endeavour’s hills. I’ve put a yellow circle where Oppy is at the moment, and an arrow shows the route she might take as she moves further up slope and prepares to drop down again…

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And where is The Gully in relation to where Oppy is now? Take a look… the arrows show a possible route the river will take to get there, a route which includes a brief visit to a small crater a little way out on the plain…

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As for The Gully itself, here’s a new close-up view I’ve made of it, using a HiRISE image…

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Can’t wait to get there and see that gully close-up; I’m sure Opportunity will do some fascinating science there. It’s about a kilometre away, maybe a little less, so I don’t think we’re looking at a long trip. Still, I suppose it depends on how many shiny things Opportunity is distracted by along the way…!

Meanwhile, Curiosity is seeing some absolutely stunning scenery at the moment. Here are my latest processed mosaics made from raw MSL images… please click on them to enlarge them. You’ll be glad you did, I promise 🙂

Note: All original MSL images Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Malin Space Science Systems

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Very intrigued by all the flow patterns on the dust on the slopes in those last two images…

Check back soon to see if Opportunity has made it  to the top of the hill yet.

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Almost there…

I think, I think Opportunity is just about to reach the top of the hill…

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Meanwhile, Curiosity is sending back simply beautiful images from Gale Crater, showing a bewildering variety of rocks. I made the following mosaics by processing and the stitching-together some of the latest images sent back by the rover. As ever, click on them to enlarge them…

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Almost there, Opportunity…

Having just marked the 13th anniversary of her landing on Mars, Opportunity is now approaching the top of the slope she has been climbing for the past few weeks. It won’t be long now until she gets to the top and then heads down the other side of the hills, and begins her trek towards the gully further to the south. Here’s her latest view…

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Meanwhile, The Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity has been sending back some beautiful images of the rocks around her, as she steadily works her way towards the foothills of Mt Sharp. I’ve stitched around 25 of them together and processed the resulting mosaic a touch to make what I hope is a very striking portrait of the geological diversity around Curiosity. So, having done that I invite you to click on the image below and spend some time just wandering around it at your leisure, taking in all the different sized, shapes and textured rocks. You’re welcome. 🙂

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Here’s a crop of my favourite area of that sweeping panorama…

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…and finally for this time, I wanted to share with you another Curiosity view that caught my eye, which just shows that the most beautiful Mars images aren’t always the widescreen sweeping vistas of the planet’s magnificent “Big Country” landscape… this is a view of the ground at Curiosity’s feet, showing some beautiful, wind-blown rippling dust dunes…

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Check back soon to see the new scenery when Oppy gets to the top of that rise… should be a lovely view…!

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Happy Birthday Opportunity!

Opportunity has now been on Mars for 13 years – Earth years that is. I paid tribute to that achievement in the previous post, so not going to say all that again! Instead – before going AFK (look it up or ask your parents, kids!) for a couple of days for a birthday trip – I’ll just post three pictures. The first is Oppy’s most recent view, showing the view up ahead… you can see she is now nearing the top of the slope she has been climbing for the past week and a half. Soon she’ll get to the top, then go down the other side of the hills, back onto the flat plain of Meridiani, and will then head south towards that gully…

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Pic 2: a Google Earth map showing the scene from above…

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And finally, we all love the film “The Martian” right? Ok, so the dust storm was ridiculously violent and just plain silly, but the film is such a treat I’m personally happy to forgive it that. The whole point of the film is how amazing it is that Mark Watney was able to survive on Mars for so long. Well, let’s put that in perspective…

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🙂

 

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