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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Another day, another drive…

Opportunity continues to make progress towards the gully. Although we can’t see it – it’s just over the local horizon – it’s calling to Oppy now, as she steadily works her way down-slope. On the plain below we can now see several craters, ripples of wind-blown dark dust and lighter rocky outcrops, but as interesting as they are personally I’m looking forward to seeing what Opportunity sees when she looks back at the hills, that should be a great “Look where we’ve been…” view..

In the meantime, here are the latest views to come back from Opportunity.

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…and – just for fun – if you stretch that view vertically it really brings out the topographical relief on the terrain up ahead…

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Check on Oppy’s progress later.

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Red – and slightly less red – Mars…

So, while waiting for the latest images to come back from Opportunity (where will she have driven to since the last downlink? Closer to the gully? Down onto the Plain? Can’t wait to find out!) I decided to have another go at the view from the other day.

Why?

Well, I’m aware that, compared to the images being created by other – far more skilled – Mars rover fans, like Jason Major and James Sorenson to name just two, my images can look a bit too red, a bit too “Hollywood Mars” sometimes. Other people produce views which are more muted, less saturated than mine. And that’s ok. I’ve said from the start that my images are not meant (unless otherwise stated) to be faithful, accurate portraits of Mars. They are not “what you would see if you were there” depictions of the martian landscape. Rather, my images are essentially how *I* see and feel Mars, in my head and in my heart. I try not to go too overboard, of course; I never pump up the colour to a migraine-inducing shade of”Total Recall red”, and I don’t go too far the other way and make Mars look like a Doctor Who quarry that’s been “colourised” to make it a stomach-heavingly godawful shade of bile green/diarrhoea brown/pus yellow either. I just try to make pictures that, well, do Mars justice, you know? Pictures that are my own personal thank yous to the incredible MER mission and the men and women who run it.

So, just for a bit of fun – and to see what my images would look like if I reined myself in a bit – I had another go at my most recent panorama, processing the filtered black and white images with a little less enthusiasm, trying to emulate the results achieved by others, and here’s what came out…

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What do you think? Better? More realistic? You can’t really tell unless you see v1 and v2 together, so let’s do that…

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Personally, seeing them together like that, I still prefer v1. I don’t know… somehow it just looks more “martian”, but again that might just be because that’s how I see it in my head and feel it in *here*. I’d be interested in your views anyway.

Right, let’s see if any new images have come down while I’ve been writing this…

 

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The road ahead – in colour…

I was off work last Friday and Saturday – Friday because I was not in on the rota, Saturday because I was laid up with a leg injury which meant I literally couldn’t walk – so I split the time between writing and repeatedly and relentlessly checking for new images from Opportunity, fully expecting new, jaw-dropping views of Endeavour’s hills and Opportunity’s route ahead, ideally some of the “triplets” of images taken through red, green and blue filters which I use to make my colour views.

Frustratingly, none came back, except for a handful of images showing a rocky outcrop I couldn’t place at all.

Yesterday I went back to work, so of course when I checked for images in my break there they were! I couldn’t wait to get home to get to work on them, and make a colour view of the landscape, and at around 1am THIS morning  finally had something I felt happy to share with others. So, here it is, Opportunity’s most recent view of Endeavour and her road ahead. Firstly, the black and white version…

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…which is pretty impressive, I’m sure you’ll agree! But when  you turn that into a color view…

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…NOW you’re talking! Isn’t that a beautiful view? Very pleased with that. But with a bit more work and some cropping I was able to make this view, which I think is even better…

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Isn’t that something? The graceful, sweeping curve of the hills, the dust-softened far horizon, the rock scattered slopes… beautiful, just beautiful. Even though we can’t see the gully yet that’s one of my favourite views of the mission so far.

Will we get more images today? Check back later to find out!

 

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Moving on…

…but I’ll be honest, I’m not quite sure where Opportunity has moved on *to*, after seeing the latest images to come back, and Peggy seems confused too…

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After the most recent drive I expected Opportunity would send back new images showing either a) she had gone to the edge of that hill and could now get a grandstand view of the gully and its surroundings, below, or b) she’d have turned sharpy to the right and was heading down the gentle slopes towards and onto the Meridiani Plain, temporarily robbing us of our views south along Endeavour’s hills. But the images that came back yesterday after NONE came back in Friday, very frustrating when I was off work that day and could have enjoyed them properly!) show Opportunity has driven up to a rocky outcrop and is taking a look at that instead. I’m not at all sure where this outcrop is, to be perfectly honest, but I’ve stitched the images together anyway…

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I think it’s the same outcrop Oppy took some colour images of the other day but I’m not sure… what do you think?

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Anyway, the main thing is Oppy is definitely on the move again, so let’s see what the next batch of images show.

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The Gully Beckons…

Opportunity is now enjoying a quite remarkable view of Endeavour Crater and the Meridiani Plain around it. Here’s my best effort at rendering that view by stitching together a number of individual pancam frames taken yesterday…

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Just look at that… That’s a view worthy of a rover which has spent 13 years exploring Mars, and is still going strong, isn’t it? The curve of the mountain range which forms the crater’s rim… the “next” crater south, Iazu, on the horizon… the Meridiani Plain pocked with craters… the slope leading down to where Opportunity will eventually explore the gully, which I’m pretty sure is now called “Perseverance Valley” but I’m waiting for confirmation on that. The last time I wanted to actually be on Mars this much, standing next to Opportunity with my hand resting on her back, seeing the view she was seeing, sharing it with her, was when she rolled up to the edge of Victoria Crater and gazed out across it, seeing this…

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Opportunity is in a beautiful place now, she really is. I can’t wait for some more images to come back today, hopefully ones taken with different coloured filters which will allow me to make a colour version of the image shown up at the top of the page there.

I think the view Opportunity is seeing at the moment is so striking because it looks so familiar, it’s easy for people – everyone, not just spacey types – to appreciate and identify with. It shows hills… and we’ve all walked in, or seen, hills…. it shows a beckoning far horizon, and how many of you reading this have stood on the top of a hill, or just somewhere high, and gazed out at a faraway horizon just like it? It shows a lot of sky, and how many “Road to Endeavour” readers have stood somewhere with a fantastic view, for miles around, but been transfixed by the sight of an enormous, open sky above it?

What we can’t see yet is the gully Opportunity is heading for, I think it’s still hidden by the near horizon. As Oppy heads downhill we might catch a glimpse of it, but it’s just as possible that if she swings right and rolls down off the mountainside and onto the flat plain below, heading for one of the little craters out there, we won’t get to see the gully until she begins to head right for it. But that’s ok, I’m almost drooling imagining the views Oppy will send back of Endeavour’s rim from the plain…

So what can we see at the moment? And where are we? Take a look…

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I’m still a little reluctant to call the gully “Perseverance Valley” because I’ve not seen that name used for it officially anywhere, but I’m asking people and hope to hear soon.

Check back later for  the latest news on Oppy’s incredible journey…

 

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Opportunity steams south…

Having finally emerged from the valleys Opportunity is now heading south along the summit of Cape Tribulation, and the view is really opening up ahead of her. Once again we can see the far horizon, and can look down on, and across, the vast Meridiani Plain for miles and miles and miles… This was the view yesterday, which I thought was pretty good…

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But since those images were taken Opportunity has driven even further south, and the view has opened up a whole lot more… If you’re not already sitting down, I advise you to sit down before you see the next picture because it is just beautiful…

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Now to be honest I’m not really happy with that. My GoTo stitching program AutoStitch *hates* MER images at the moment, and refuses to stitch them properly, and when it does it enhances the vignetting effect. So this was made with Microsoft ICE which isn’t performing particularly well either, but it’s the best I can do right now.

UPDATE: I had another go, cropped that view a bit and cleaned it up too… so *this* is the best I ca do right now… 😉

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This view is only going to get better as Oppy descends this hillside, so expect more images soon…

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She’s Out!

If you’re a regular reader of this blog (and if you are, thank you!) you’ll have noticed that it’s been almost two weeks since it was updated. That’s because basically Opportunity paused just beneath the lip of the slope she has been climbing up out of “The Valleys” (my name, not NASA’s) en-route to the flat top of Cape Tribulation – and parked up there, with the flat summit of the Cape visible just up ahead, close enough to touch almost…

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She then began taking a BIG panorama of the view around her…

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…which I eventually gave up piecing together because a) my software couldn’t handle it and b) it puzzled me because I personally couldn’t see any reason for parking where she did and taking such an image there.

Thankfully other MER image fans didn’t give up quite so easily. One of the best “image processors” out there, James Sorenson, has given me permission to use his gorgeous image here…

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As impressive as a feat of image processing that is (and it is, trust me!), that view didn’t seem particularly interesting or inspiring to me; the rocks around her didn’t look anything special; there were no nests of alien eggs or martian hieroglyphics to be seen anywhere… and every day that passed when I went online and saw more images of the same place I grew more and more impatient, sighing and then growling “Oh come on, move…! What are you DOING still sat there?”

Now it all makes sense.

The latest fantastic MER Update from AJS Rayl on The Planetary Society’s blog reveals that as Oppy was about to trundle up out of The Valleys and start to head south she spotted some very interesting rocks sticking out of the top of the slope. Now, I;d seen these rocks on my own mosaics and hadn’t really paid much attention to them, even though, with hindsight, they clearly appear to be scoured, or scratched…

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…and the science team decided to send some time taking a good long look at them before exiting The Valleys – after all, they will not be back this way ever again. So, that’s why Opportunity ground to a halt mere feet from the top of the exit ramp, and now I feel slightly bad that I was so impatient! The MER science team know exactly what they’re doing, and everything they do they do for a reason.

Anyway, here’s a link to AJS’s very detailed report, and I’ll let her tell you all about the significance of the rock in question (AJS is also using some of my images in her reports again, so it’s lovely to be back on her Updates!). To go with that, here’s a mosaic view I made showing the close-up of the surface of those rocks…

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Opportunity also spotted a very cute little “pyramid” rock sticking up out of the ground at her feet/wheels… I wonder how long it will be before some nut job Mars Anomaly hunter re-posts this (without credit, of course) and declares it is a huge artificial structure built by a race of ancient, advanced martians..?

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..but the Big News for this post is… (roll on the drums…)…

OPPORTUNITY IS NOW BACK ON TOP OF CAPE TRIBULATION!!!

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I apologise for the very crude nature of that panorama and its stitching but my software just refused to make a good job if it, so I had to go back to “manual” and paste the separate images onto a single strip in my DTP software. Still, it gives you a good idea of Oppy’s location now. Here are a couple of colour views of features Oppy can see now..

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…and a colourised look back at those etched and scoured rocks…

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But wait, we have other news…

In her latest PS Update, AJS Rayl reports that “The Gully Without A Name” now has a name… everyone, say hello to…

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Here’s a colour view…

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How far away is that? It will take Opportunity a few weeks to get there, but when she does she is going to see some fascinating geology I think. It will be like a whole new mission.

Again..!

Check back soon for the latest pictures and news from this incredible journey across the surface of Mars.


NOTE: photo credit for all images used in this post, unless otherwise stated:

NASA / JPL-Caltech / Cornell / ASU / Stuart Atkinson

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