Catching up with Opportunity…

Just a quick catch post up this time – a look at some of the images Opportunity has been sending back since Sol 5000, which seems a long time ago now, doesn’t it?

Opportunity is slowly working her way down Perseverance Valley, studying rocky outcrops, free-standing stones and features in the landscape as she goes. She’s now trundling down the south fork of the valley, and enjoying great views of the crater floor and its opposite rim.

Let’s look at what she’s been seeing since our last update…

Note: Original images credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Cornell, additional processing by Stuart Atkinson

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Oppy marches on…

Well, trundles on… 🙂

With Sol 5000 and her historic selfie behind her, Opportunity is just getting on with her day job of doing amazing science on Mars as she explores Perseverance Valley. Here are the latest colourised picture I’ve produced from the images she has sent back over the past couple of days.

All images: Credit NASA / JPL / Cornell University / Stuart Atkinson

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Even after following Opportunity’s mission for fourteen years I still feel a shiver run through me whenever I see images of Opportunity’s own tracks weaving and winding across the martian surface. It brings home the fact that she is a rover, that she is moving, driving across Mars, seeing – and sharing with us – a different view almost every day, and not just standing still on its surface, looking around. It is going to be a long time until people walk across those cinnamon sands; for the forseeable future Oppy’s view (and Curiosity’s too) is the only one we’re going to have, so enjoy it!

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I’d like to finish this post with another version of “The Selfie” Opportunity took on Sol 5000, this time one created by another of the image processors I respect a lot – Olivier deGoursac. One thing I just couldn’t do was put my mosaic version of Opportunity beneath a decent sky, but Olivier has managed to do just that, and here’s the result…

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Amazing work, I’m sure you’ll agree. And a real spine-tingle seeing Opportunity looking so beautiful, too! 🙂

More soon.

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Opportunity on Sol 5000

Well… it was a safe bet that the MER team would mark Opportunity’s 5000th sol on Mars with something special, but we had no idea just how special a trick they had up their sleeves until late yesterday evening, when a batch of images taken on that historic day were released. This is what we saw online…

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First thought: what is THAT??

But when we looked at the rest of the images in the download the penny dropped, and our pulses started to quicken…

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Was that..? Could it be..? Had they really tried to..?

This was the giveaway…

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That’s Opportunity’s robot arm, and its “hand” was orientated in such a way that the “Microscopic Imager” camera on it was facing the rover. Just get that image in your mind… that is a photo of Opportunity’s smallest camera, taken by one of its other cameras. That’s the equivalent of you doing this…

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…and that meant it looked very much like Opportunity had been commanded by the MER team to take a whole bunch of little “selfies”, so they could make a proper “self portrait” to mark the special day with.

Now, it’s important to make a personal distinction here. Opportunity has taken photos of itself before, on many occasions. We’ve grown used to seeing images like this over the years…

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Images like that beautiful one are self-portraits of a kind because they are made by Opportunity tilting down its cameras and taking lots of photos which are then assembled into a single image. They are useful for checking how dusty she is. But what you can’t see on that image is Opportunity’s “face”, the front of the box at the top of the camera mast that her cameras are housed in and stick out of. Personally – and I’m fully aware this isn’t a convention – I’ve always believed a true self portrait has to show the subject’s face, so for me images like the one above don’t fully qualify as self portraits. But if the Sol 5000 images included ones of Opportunity’s cameras, the “eyes” in her “face” then that would mean a proper self portrait was there, just waiting to be made… and when I downloaded one of the images and turned it on its head, there it was…

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Oh yes…!

So, I quickly downloaded the rest images and imported them into the program I use to make my mosaics. I couldn’t wait to see what the stitched-together self portrait would look like. I clicked the button and with a thumping heart sat back and waited to see the mosaic appear on my screen –

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What?? “Failed to align images”??? NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!

It seemed the images were of such a low resolution that my image processing software couldn’t work out what went where. A disappointment, yes, but it just meant going ti Plan B: doing it the old-fashioned way.

Stitching them together manually, one at a time.

So I began to do that. It seemed to take forever, but it worked…

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And slowly the self portrait began to take shape…

Eventually I had managed to turn those separate images into this very crude, Frankenstein’s Monster of a mosaic…

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Now, because of my limited processing skills and budget-level software, that’s pretty rubbish really. But looking at it I filled up. There she was, Opportunity. Not seen from above, not just a flat expanse of solar panels, but her, standing there, looking right into the camera, with the martian horizon behind her, the martian sky above her and the martian Sun shining on her back. Opportunity. On Mars.

Yes, I had a bit of a “moment” when that appeared on my screen. I’ll admit it. I never saw Opportunity at JPL, and in all the 14 years since she landed I’ve never truly felt like any of the images showing the shadow of her camera mast on the ground, or one corner of her solar array, or her wheels, have showed her. But this… this was her.

And I wondered, if seeing that was affecting me, a mere “fan” in such a way, what on Earth were the MER team feeling like at that moment?

I wanted to post my image online, on Twitter and Facebook, right away. Not to grab any personal glory, or to beat anyone else, but just because I wanted to share with others the incredible achievement the image represented. But what if the MER team was about to release their own self-portrait? I hated the idea of stealing their thunder, so I checked with a couple of the team if it would be okay for me to share my image. Absolutely, I was told; after all the images had been released publicly already, so there was no problem. That’s what I thought they’d say, but out of consideration and respect for the team I wanted to check. Approval given, I posted my image onto Twitter and then Facebook…

And to say it created a stir is a bit of an understatement… 🙂

I’m often told that there’s no interest in space exploration any more, that the public think other things are more important. Well, the response to that hodgepodge image of mine – and to my previous Sol 4999 image – is anything to go by, that’s simply not true. People are still fascinated by space, and the exploration of space, and as my rubbishy image was retweeted and retweeted, not just by space enthusiasts but by scientists and people involved in the MER mission itself, past and present, it was wonderful to be able to show people just what an incredible machine Opportunity is, and how amazing the people involved in the mission are, and have been, to guide her safely to Sol 5000.

I worked a bit more on my image, and eventually coaxed a little more detail out of it, but not much…

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It’s still a cobbled-together monstrosity, but I don’t care, that image means the world to me, it really does. It’s a personal thank you to the MER team.

And I have to give a shout-out to two special people here – Doug Ellison and Keri Bean. Keri was responsible for sending the commands up to Opportunity to take those images, and Doug was responsible for *taking* them, for making Opportunity’s robot arm move and position the MI camera accurately enough to take the photos. It’s because of Doug that I have been able to follow the MER mission so closely over all these years. He set up the unmannedspaceflight.com forum a the start of the mission, to give rover fans and space enthusiasts a place to hang out and share their images, thoughts and experiences. I applied to join, was accepted, and that was it, my life changed.

And all those years ago Doug was thinking about how Opportunity could take a “self portrait”. It was a dream then, of course. He was “just” a space enthusiast, an amateur image processor, albeit a hugely-talented one, looking in on JPL through the window like the rest of us. Today, thanks to hard work and sheer determination Doug doesn’t just work at JPL, he works on the MER mission, he’s a member of the team, and yesterday he was on shift to watch the images he’d dreamed of taking for so long return to Earth and appear on a screen in front of him. I can’t even begin to imagine how that felt. But I’m so pleased for him, and I know how much yesterday will have meant to him.

Later on, JPL released their own official version of the Sol 5000 self portrait…

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So much better than mine! Mind you, they have rather better computers and software than me, and are, you know, genuine rocket scientists (ish) so you’d expect them to make something better 😉 But look at that picture… you can see things I couldn’t get to work on my image, such as the arm of the robot arm and even a wheel over on the lower left. Unbelievable.

I finally got to bed at around 02.30, still buzzing from the events of the night. I set my alarm for 5.30am, wanting to go outside and see Mars shining in the pre-dawn sky, so I could take a photo of it and put that next to my mosaic, but when I looked outside it was cloudy, so I was cheated of that. But a quick check of my phone showed that at least one more image processor had been working on the images sent back by Opportunity. Here is what the brilliant processor James Sorenson produced from them…

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Now come on, that’s sorcery or wizardry of some kind, surely!!!

It’s now Saturday morning here in the UK, and as I write this blog post it’s 07.55 on Sol 5001. The historic Sol 5000 has come and gone. Opportunity is now working away on exploring more of Perseverance Valley, blissfully unaware of the craziness and emotion back on Earth yesterday. But looking at those images – mine, JPL’s and James’ – I feel so proud of her, and all the people behind her, I can’t really explain it.

So I’ll just have to hope you can imagine it for yourselves.

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UPDATE:

I’d just finished writing all of the above when I received a message from James, with a picture attachment… He and space artist Don Davis have worked together – using witchcraft or sorcery or some kind of supernatural power – to add realistic colour to James’ original image, to create something I think is quite magical…

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Sorry,  have to go, I’ve got something in my eye…

 

 

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SOL 5000

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At just after 1.20 this morning, I watched the date and time on the “Mars Clock” app tick-over from Sol 4999 23.59 to Sol 50000 00.00 and (after several practice attempts!) took this historic screen-grab…

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Look at that. She did it. Opportunity did it.

She reached Sol 5000 on Mars.

I know I sound like a stuck CD (“Dad, what’s a DC?” “Oh, just Google it, son…”) every time I say this, and I’m sure most of you reading this will know it already, but it’s important to remember that when she was launched, back in 2003, everyone had their fingers crossed that IF she landed safely (which was by no means certain) she might last as long as 90 days on Mars, and drive as far as a kilometre, before failing. Some thought 90 sols was a reasonable figure to aim for, others thought it was very optimistic. So when she landed in Eagle Crater, in that “Cosmic Hole In One”, we were all watching the clock, watching the sols tick by, and Sol 90 seemed to dawn in no time at all. Then Sol 91… 92… 93… and nothing happened. She kept going. And going. Her wheels didn’t fall off. Her solar arrays didn’t crumble. She didn’t roll to a halt and topple over with a pathetic wheeze like R2D2 in that canyon on Tatooine. She kept roving across Mars. And the sols ticked by…

Today, largely forgotten by most people, including many people in the “space community” and, it seems, within NASA itself, Opportunity is still roving on Mars. And it is very important we celebrate that today is Sol 5000 of her mission – of her 90 day mission. She’s in good shape, and is still doing amazing, valuable science, followed faithfully by a hardcore group of rover fans who have followed her every move on Mars for the past 14 years, who have checked for new images daily, and who have walked beside her, virtually, as she has roamed the Red Planet, alone.

Late last night a new batch of images sent back by Opportunity was posted online, images taken at the start of Sol 4999. Among them were three black and white images of the rising Sun, each one taken through a different-coloured filter. By combining these I was able to make a single colour image of the martian sunrise. This is nothing new; I’ve done it countless thousands of times with other “triplets” over the past fourteen years with photos of Meridiani Planum’s crumbling rocky ledges, wind-etched meteorites and rolling dusty plains. But this time it was different. This time it felt… more important, like it meant something. This time it felt like I was making something significant.

Not to anyone else! No, that would be ridiculous. I mean significant to me, as a fan and follower of the mission. The MER mission has become very important to me, as have the people behind it. In a way, MER is my Apollo. I was too young for all the pre-Apollo 11 build-up, and by the time I was old enough to really appreciate the significance of the epic Apollo missions they were coming to an end. I feel like I missed them.

I realise my colourisations posted here on this blog are very crude and amateurish compared to the images produced by other image processors with more skill and more expensive software, etc, but they’re mine. I enjoy making them, and sharing them, and it’s good that others seem to enjoy seeing them, too. So when I saw that trio of sunrise images I knew I wanted to colourise them and make a special image to mark Opportunity reaching Sol 5000.

And here it is. Others will do better, much better, I’m sure; the colours in their versions will be more accurate, more realistic, just… better. But this is my celebration of the MER mission to date, and my celebration of Opportunity reaching Sol 5000.

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I posted that on Twitter last night, wondering if there’d be much interest in it. After all, Opportunity seems to have been largely forgotten “out there”. As I write this it has been seen more than 36,000 times through being re-tweeted, shared and viewed by people around the world, which is fantastic. 🙂

While it looks like NASA itself isn’t planning on making a big deal of Opportunity reaching Sol 5000, I’m sure the MER team has something special planned to mark it, and I’ll post whatever that is when I can. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with another sunrise image. No “true” colours this time (I’ve colourised it blue just to make it look more like a real blue-hued martian sunrise), but if you look carefully you can see something up there to the top right… clouds, clouds in the martian dawn sky as the Sun rises above Endeavour Crater.

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Sol 5000.

How wonderful is that?

And I’ll say it again. I think the best is yet to come.

 

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Sol 5000… ALMOST there…!

Well, that’s annoying… I was expecting to be writing a post today celebrating Opportunity reaching 5000 sols on Mars – but the NASA MER website is wrong.

Yes, read that again: The. NASA. MER. Website. Is. Wrong.

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Based on the “clock” on the NASA MER website I actually set my alarm for stupid o’clock this morning, so I could take a screen-grab of the historic tick-over moment onto Sol 5000… I missed it by 4 minutes but took the pic anyway – only to find out later that the clock on that page is wrong, and Oppy is still on sol 4999!

A couple of hours ago I used the excellent “Mars Clock” app developed by ex Mars rover driver Scott Maxwell to check the actual time on Mars and compared it to the time given on the “Time On Mars” sidebar on the NASA MER website at the exact same time…

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How crazy is that????

Anyway, looking on the bright side it means I didn’t miss the tick-over moment after all, so I’ve set my alarm again, for around 01.20 tomorrow morning, so I can take that screen-grab I want.

So, we’re almost there folks, almost there…!

In the meantime, my latest processed Opportunity views…

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I’m pretty sure the pink and green Skittles colours on that slab of rock are just a result of the processing, so please don’t take that image as calibrated or “accurate” or “realistic” or anything like that.

Catch you all tomorrow to celebrate Sol 5000!

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One sol to go…

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Look at that… look at that number… Sol 4999… that screen-grab was taken just a few hours ago off the official NASA MER website, and is confirmation that Opportunity is now just one day/sol away from marking her 5000th day on Mars. What an incredible achievement. And I love the “Sols past warranty” on the bottom, a reminder that the mission was originally expected/hoped to last 90 days, and has gone way, waaaaaaaaaaaaay beyind that…

So, not long until we tick over onto Sol 5000, and of course we’ll mark that here appropriately and with unashamed joyful gushing! In the meantime, here is my latest processed image showing Opportunity’s view down Perseverance Valley out onto the floor of Endeavour Crater…

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And as a special Valentine’s Day treat, a few new processed crops of a HiRISE image taken on this very day three years ago, showing Opportunity from orbit. I doubt she’s anywhere near as clean and shiny today. Maybe there’ll be a new HiRISE image taken to mark Sol 5000…

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Come back tomorrow to celebrate Sol 5000!

 

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Rolling towards Sol 5000

The latest images to come back from Opportunity are from Sol 4997. Now, I’m rubbish at maths but even I can work out that that means she is now just three days from reaching a HUGE milestone – her 5000th sol on Mars. Sol 5000. Sol FIVE THOUSAND. Of a mission we hoped would last 90 days.

NASA had better make a bloody big deal about this amazing achievement. There had better be special press releases, tributes all over social media, the works. If they don’t pay Oppportunity, her designers, drivers and engineers the proper respect they all deserve it will be a huge insult to the mission and all the people who have worked so hard on it over the years.

I guess we’ll see… 🙂

In the meantime, Opportunity – unconcerned with milestones or anniversaries herself – continues to quietly explore Perseverance Valley on the inner slope of Endeavour Crater. Here are my latest processed images…

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Three days to go… Sol 5000 is on the horizon…

 

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