Big anniversary on Oppy’s horizon…

High above the huge Endeavour crater, Opportunity is still slowly and methodically exploring and surveying the upper slopes of Marathon Valley, taking close up images of the rocks and dust, pausing now and then in her work to lift her eyes from the ground and take in the magnificent view, which looks like this…

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It’s incredible to think that Opportunity has now been on Mars for almost a dozen years – yes, it’s true, she landed in January 2004. As the actual anniversary draws closer we’ll pay a proper tribute to her mission here, and look forward to what lies in the rover’s future. For now, though, just picture her standing proudly on the top of that crater wall, silhouetted against the orange sky, being fantastic, still, after all these years.πŸ™‚

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Me and my shadow…

High above the wide open plains of Meridiani, at the summit of Cape Tribulation on the rim of ancient Endeavour Crater, the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity is busy exploring Marathon Valley. She is seeing some fascinating rock formations around and on either side of her, as she carries out a thorough geological survey of the area.

Earlier this week Opportunity set back a sequence of images taken by her one of her HAZCAMs, which I’ve assembled into this panoramic view. I love this image because it shows Opportunity’s own shadow being cast on the hillside by the low Sun…

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Roving ’round rugged rocks…

Opportunity is continuing her survey of “Marathon Valley”, high above the dune-rippled floor of Endeavour Crater. While I wait for a new batch of red, green and blue images to come back, here are the latest views of the side of the valley, and the pebble- and stone-strewn ground around her…

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Oppy still exploring Marathon Valley

Just a quick note to reassure readers of the blog that, like Oppy herself, it is very much alive. If the lack of recent posts had left anyone worried that my commitment to either was flagging, I can assure you that is absolutely not the case. Real, non-blogging life gets in the ways sometimes, and that has been the case: like all bloggers, away from my laptop I have commitments to family, work and other things which mean sometimes, just for a while, blogging has to take a breather. So, thanks for hanging in there – I know many of you check-in regularly for updates, and I appreciate it.πŸ™‚

Another problem has been that this is, primarily, an unashamedly pretty picture image-driven “travel blog” for Oppy’s adventure on Mars – and for the past few weeks, as fascinating as the views of the rocks and boulders scattered around Oppy’s wheels are (and they are, it’s beautiful geology)Β  there haven’t been many of those available to make from the raws coming back…

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It also hasn’t helped that the image stitching software I use hasn’t been able *to* stitch together the images being sent back, which has been frustrating –

** sigh **

But anyway, enough moaning. Just wanted to reassure anyone who was worried about it that all is well with the blog, and my devotion to Oppy, and commitment to supporting her and her team as she roves Mars, remain. There’ll be a big update soon, but for now, here are a couple of stitched mosaics of images taken by Oppy’s microscopic imager showing, in great detail, the wide variety of shapes, sizes and forms of rocky fragments and stones on the floor of Marathon Valley…

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Opportunity – the REAL Martian…

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Unless you’ve been living on Pluto for the past year, or locked in the dungeons of the ROSETTA mission’s OSIRIS camera team, you’ll have heard about “THE MARTIAN”, a blockbuster movie, made from a best-selling book which took the world by storm when it was published, after already gaining a loyal and rabid following as an ebook. After a breathless media build-up, the movie comes out next week, and all the reviews so far have been gushing in their praise for it, with one reviewer after another waxing lyrical about the trials and tribulations of future NASA astronaut Mark Watney who is marooned on Mars after a dust storm ends a crewed mission to the Red Planet rather sooner than planned.

Obviously NASA knows a good PR opportunity when it sees one, and so is supporting the film enthusiastically, and using it to promote its own Mars missions –

Well, some of them.

It’s certainly promoting Curiosity, the Mars Science Laboratory, currently trundling forlornly around the foothills of Mt Sharp in Gale Crater on its raggedy wheels. And it’s using THE MARTIAN to highlight its future plans for crewed and uncrewed missions to Mars, too. Fair enough, of course, they’d be daft not to ride such a towering wave of free publicity. But, amazingly, and ridiculously, NASA’s most successful Mars mission to date has not been touched by the magic MARTIAN hand.

Yes, incredibly, NASA continues to ignore the continuing success of Opportunity, which landed on Mars in 2004, more than a decade ago.

Opportunity is now, I think it’s pretty obvious, The Rover That NASA Forgot – or is at least the rover that some in NASA want to forget. She’s not mentioned at media events anymore, isn’t acknowledged when “successful” NASA missions are listed, and as far as I can tell it is over a year – over a YEAR – since she was photographed by the HiRISE camera, which is ridiculous. ( Seriously, NASA, as beautiful as the HiRISE images are, enough pictures of dust dunes, gullies and sedimentary layers have been taken to be going on with, thanks…)

In fact, the last time NASA really acknowledged Opportunity in any meaningful way was when she crossed that imaginary but historic “First Martian Marathon Finishing Line”. At the time – along with several others – I worried that NASA would consider that as an informal end to Opportunity’s mission, and would quietly tiptoe away, leaving her to her fate afterwards. And sadly it seems this is exactly what has happened.

So, I’ll just come out and say here what I think others are thinking but don’t feel they can say: I can’t help wondering if some of the NASA high ups wish Opportunity wasn’t working any more, and actually wish she would just get it over with and die, so the media spotlight would shine on Curiosity alone.

Oppy’s extended life on Mars has taken NASA by surprise, I’m sure. She wasn’t expected to survive this long on Mars. Being honest, when she landed, in her “cosmic hole in one” all those years ago, no-one, not even the most giddily optimistic amongst us, dared to imagine she would still be roving Mars more than a decade later. But she is. Today, as you read this blog post, having explored numerous craters, discovered and studied a dozen or so meteorites, crossed a marathon’s worth of unforgiving desert, survived dust storms, computer glitches and budget threats, Opportunity is STILL driving on Mars, STILL sending back beautiful images, STILL making important scientific discoveries. She is now exploring Marathon Valley, in search of deposits clay-rich minerals spotted and mapped from orbit. This is something NASA should be celebrating, not ignoring.

NASA is enjoying great PR and levels of public interest at the moment. The world was fascinated by the first NEW HORIZONS images of Pluto, and every release since has been greeted with whooping and cheering. Likewise, the enigmatic and mysterious “White Spots” of Ceres, being photographed by the DAWN probe, are intriguing to space journalists and armchair explorers around the globe. And yet, as the world goes crazy over THE MARTIAN, and NASA shamelessly drapes itself over the film like a jazz club singer over a piano, Opportunity rolls on, ignored. Basking in the icy sunshine at the summit of Endeavour Crater’s eastern hills, high above Meridiani Planum, she is surveying Marathon Valley, and sending back views like these…

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I hope that NASA starts to pay Oppy the attention she deserves soon. Her dedicated – if shrunken – science team is still in love with their rover, their mission, and with Mars too, and they deserve better than this.

So, you have to ask… who is the REAL Martian?

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Marathon Valley doesn’t disappoint…

Opportunity is now well into Marathon Valley, and sending back pictures every bit as beautiful as we hoped they would be. Leading down the slope into Endeavour Crater there are rocks, boulders and stones of all shapes and sizes strewn across the valley floor, and on either side of Opportunity as she works her way downhill layered walls rise up into the salmon-pink sky. Here are some of the views she has been enjoying, and sending back, recently…

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Depending on how much time you spend online and how much attention you pay to this kind of thing, you may or may not be aware that there has been a lot of nonsense online and in the media in general recently about images being sent back from Mars. Not so much about Opportunity’s images, but definitely Curiosity’s. People – and of course, by “people” I mean the Martian Anomoly Division of that deluded army of sad, tin foil hat-wearing conspiracy theorist nutters and losers who sit in their parents’ basements tapping out fevered blog posts or making crap YouTube videos about chemtrails, Nibiru and the Apollo Moon Landing Hoax – have been “discovering” all sorts of amazing things on Mars, snapped accidentally (or deliberately, maybe…!!!????) by the rovers. Most recently they have “spotted” a giant crab hiding in the shadows beneath a ledge, and a mysterious “woman” walking across the shifting sands of Mars…

Regular readers of this blog will know I have no time or tolerance for these idiots – and that’s not “having a closed mind”, before any of them start flaming me; it’s just someone who has an understanding of real science, and the real conditions on Mars, having a zero tolerance for bullshit being produced and spread by the growing legion of crackpots, idiots and liars with no interest in genuine science.

Whenever I write something like that, someone always comes back with “Some are troubled people, with mental problems, you shouldn’t be so dismissive of all of them”. Ok, that might be true, and obviously some of the people who write this stuff are doing so because they lack the capacity to question it, and have been disturbed or scared by it when they were introduced to it. But I think the majority of the people who spread this stuff are not mentally disturbed, or vulnerable, they are either naive and lacking in basic scientific knowledge, or deliberately and mischeviously spreading rubbish to alarm and mislead people, and should be challenged. The “research” they always urge us “sheeple” to do whenever we call them out consists of reading other fevered blog posts by equally-deluded fools, and watching hour after hour of badly-produced, gibberingly-insane YouTube videos produced by people who never use their real names but like to be known to the disbelieving outside world as “Armageddon Truth” or “Mars Detective” or “Revelation Omega” or some similiar New Age trippy crap. If they could be bothered to do some real research – on NASA sites or even just on the much-maligned Wikipedia – they would know that it’s impossible for such things to exist on Mars, just impossible.

But they never do that, and never will, because they enjoy sitting there, tapping away at their computers like Neo in The Matrix, feeling that they are somehow “in the know”, that they are part of an elite group of people around the world who “know the truth”. It makes them feel big, and important, and special. I actually think some of them know they’re talking and spreading BS, they just want their websites, blogs or YouTube channels to get a lot of views, and probably get an income from adverts on them.

So, if you want to ignore them, or shake your heads sadly at them and try to be understanding and tolerant, that’s your choice. I think they are idiots, fools and liars, and will treat them as such because I believe they are dangerous and should be fought against. I have no tolerance for them, and I will call them out if I get a chance to. Like the rest of the universe, Mars isΒ  too beautiful and fascinating and amazing without having to be embellished and embroidered with “extras” like teeny tiny martian Bigfoots, statues, sentinel crabs or dark ladies.

So… this…

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Can’t wait to see what Opportunity shows us next!πŸ™‚

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Into the valley… soon…

Firstly, apologies for not updating the blog recently (if anyone is bothered, ha!). Just been mega busy following and writing about the incredible New Horizons mission, and as Oppy wasn’t really doing much recently, what with solar conjunction and all, I took the time to catch up with other projects. But the good news is Oppy is on the move again, and is clearly advancing towards the entrance to Marathon Valley!

I’ve had a really hard time trying to get the images taken by Opportunity recently stitched into a single panorama, so many thanks to image processor Jan van Driel for giving me permission to use his images, the most recent of which offers a beautiful view “over the edge” and down into the upper slopes of Marathon Valley…

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More updates to follow as Opportunity starts to make her way down that slope and begins to explore the valley she has looked forward to studying for so long…

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