Checking in on Oppy…

As the days tick by, and the landing of the Mars Science Laboratory “Curiosity” draws nearer and nearer, it’s easy to think that she is the only piece of hardware going to, or on, Mars. Of course, that’s not true. Orbiting Mars are the incredibly successful Mars Odyssey, Mars Express and Mars Global Surveyor orbiters, the latter of which is still taking and sending back absolutely *glorious* high resolution images of the martian surface, on which we can see individual boulders and rocks. Odyssey is an oft-overlooked piece of hardware, which Opportunity simply could not do without. Odyssey also takes great images of her own, of course. And the European Space Agency “Mars Express” is a vital piece of our continuing exploration and study of the Red Planet. If you haven’t seen the images it’s taking, just do a quick Google image search now – there are some beauties…

Inevitably, the world’s media is now hot on the trail of Curiosity, having finally woken up to the fact that within a few days a kick ass, nuclear-powered, laser-toting robot will scream through the martian atmosphere, land and then go mountain climbing. Most of the media stories are screaming how Curiosity will be “Looking for life on Mars!” which it won’t, it’s not that kind of mission. But it is still a very impressive piece of kit, a genuine scientific laboratory, on wheels, that will move across Mars, doing incredible science. By this time next week, if all goes well, we will have images of a completely new place on Mars, and will be drooling over magnificent vistas of one of the most picturesque sites on Mars.

If all doesn’t go well… well, there will STILL be a rover on Mars, taking images, and doing science: Opportunity.

Oppy is about to take it easy for a while, as NASA concentrates on getting her bigger sister safely down onto Mars, checking her out and then setting her going. Which is fair enough. But before she puts her feet up and takes it easy, Oppy is doing some internal housekeeping, having a bit of a “spring clean” and sending back a whole load of images which have been languishing in her computer for a while. Here are a few images I’ve made, using frame taken some time ago…

The image above was taken about a month ago, back on Sol 3000 – so it’s very fitting that that amazing milestone was marked with an image showing the JPL logo so prominently, don’t you think? 🙂

So… where is Opportunity now? Well, thanks to Eduardo Tesheiner from UMSF I can show you *exactly* where she is, because “Tesh” has resumed creating his route charts for Google Mars. Here’s where Oppy is…

Tesh’s track shows how Oppy approached Whim Creek, then crossed it, then drove back into it agaibn, and is now sat in its middle, surveying the landscape around her at the rocks at her feet – well, wheels, oh you know what I mean!

Here’s multi-frame mosaic I’ve made showing some of those rocks – please click on it to view it properly, cos it took me AGES to do and deserves your full attention! 😉

Next: a close-up of one of the rocky slabs within Whim Creek…

What next for Oppy? After her brief stand down she will continue down the eastern side of Cape York, hop-scotching from crater to crater, heading south…

Eventually she’ll roll back off Cape York and cross Botany Bay, heading for Cape Tribulation… but that’s some time ahead, and needn’t concern us yet!

Finally for this post, I’d like to thank UMSF member fredk for giving me permission to use an image he created for the forum. On UMSF fred is famous – and hugely respected – for his imaging work, but by far his most popular creations are those showing “The Mystery Men” – black silhouettes of human figures, placed in Oppy images in order to give a much-needed sense of scale to the landscape. Fred recently created a view showing the Whim Creek area dotted with Mystery Men, and he has very generously given me permission to use it here and share with all of you! Thanks fred! So, delayed by a few days, here you go – see for youselves just how big, or small, the famous Whim Creek actually is…


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