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.🙂

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)  there haven’t been many of those available to make from the raws coming back…


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…

oppy shadow f

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…

dunes fImage2f





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?

collage martian f

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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…

Image1 (2)




pano6 (2)

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 is  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…

just mars frame

Can’t wait to see what Opportunity shows us next!🙂

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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…

jvd valley mouth

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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Quiet time…

Things are rather quiet for Opportunity at the moment, as you will have noticed from the lack of posts here recently. Having explored the Spirit of St Louis crater/whateveritis and studied the pile of rocks in its centre, Opportunity has now pointed herself towards the nearby entrance to Marathon Valley, but isn’t heading off to it just yet. At the moment Mars is behind the Sun – as seen from Earth – making communications between Mars and Earth difficult, so Opportunity is just taking advantage of the downtime by taking a well-earned breather and not doing much at all. I’m sure that as soon as Mars emerges from behind the Sun Oppy will crack on and head for the valley entrance. In the meantime, here’s what she’s looking at…



More soon…

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Looking at Lindbergh…

Opportunity still hasn’t set off for the mouth of Marathon Valley yet, but it surely won’t be long now; the MER team has been enjoying a good long look at “Lindbergh”, a pile of shattered and cracked rocks in the centre of the “Spirit of St Louis” crater…


lindbergh rocks bf2

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Lindbergh looms large…

Opportunity is slowly making her way around the “Spirit of St Louis” crater, on her way towards the entrance to Marathon Valley. At the centre of the crater is a tall pile of rocks, “Lindbergh”, which looks a lot like one of the cairns found at the summits of many Lake District fells. Here’s the view from a few days ago…


And here’s the latest view…


…and my colourised view…


Opportunity has been taking a closer look at some of the rocks in this area too…


All this, of course, as Opportunity passed a major – a HUGE – milestone. A couple of days ago, Opportunity celebrated her 4000th sol on Mars. I was planning a big blog post about that, as you would expect, but when the big day arrived and Oppy’s clock ticked towards and then past 4000 sols I really didn’t know what to say.

I tried; I sat down to write my long-anticipated “4000 sols on Mars!” post several times, but staring at the screen I just didn’t know what to write. Not because I was unmoved by the occasion, far from it, I just found myself struggling to put into words how proud I was of the rover and the team behind her.

As regular readers will know I have followed this mission since Day 1, actually since the rovers began to take shape in their assembly room at JPL, and I am proud to say that – like many – I have walked every mile alongside Spirit and Opportunity since their dramatic landings. I followed Spirit on her trek across the floor of Gusev Crater, up the slopes of Husband Hill and down the other side again, and was with her as she struggled to free herself from that wicked dust trap on the edge of Home Plate. When she was declared dead I mourned – in a way – for her, but continued to walk alongside her sister, Opportunity, keeping her company as she headed to and then skirted around Victoria Crater…

And then I began this blog as she took off on her Impossible Journey to Endeavour…

Now, 4000 days after landing on Mars, after crossing all those miles and miles of desert, after exploring craters, studying meteorites and climbing hills, Opportunity is standing proudly on the rim of Endeavour, high above the crater, looking down on the world. It’s a genuinely magnificent achievement for the rover itself and every single one of the remarkable men and women who have ever worked on the mission, and work on it now. And even now, writing this , I’m struggling to express how I feel about it.

I suppose my overwhelming feeling is one of gratitude – gratitude that I have been allowed to “go to” Mars through the images taken and returned to Earth during the missions of Spirit and Opportunity. Almost every day for the past eleven years I’ve gone online and checked out the latest pictures taken by them, and it really has felt like walking alongside them. Through their unblinking electronic eyes I’ve truly seen Mars.

And that means a lot to me because, confession time, I’ve never really seen Mars, not personally – at least, not at its best, at its most impressive. Of course I’ve *seen* it lots of times through telescopes, including my own, but thanks to basically just bad timing I’ve never managed to see Mars through a big telescope when it has been at its closest to Earth. As an amateur astronomer on a very limited budget I’ve only ever seen the red planet as a small red disc through my small telescopes, like a faraway orange button with a hint of a bright ice cap at one pole and even more subtle hints of vague, dusky markings on its disc. I know that through a big telescope it would look impressive, and I’d see so  much more detail, but that just hasn’t happened, not yet. Maybe I’ll have a bigger telescope – or be in the right place at the right time – in May 2016 when Mars is next at opposition. I hope so.

Until then, I have the Mars rovers to show me Mars, and I’m very grateful for that! So, just as I have done for the past 4000, I’ll continue to walk alongside Oppy every day until she eventually stops roving. That sad day will dawn, it’s inevitable, but I don’t think we’re anywhere near it. Opportunity has great discoveries to make inside Marathon Valley yet!

And in the future? I have absolutely no doubt that once there are settlements on Mars Spirit and Opportunity will be plucked off the martian surface and carried away to be put on display in a museum, dusted off and restored to their original shining glory for people to see. Full size, diamond-coated statues of the rovers will be erected at their final resting places, for tourists, historians and native martians to make pilgrimages to, and have their pictures taken beside after following the “Spirit Trail” across the floor of Gusev Crater, and the “Opportunity Trail” across Meridiani. Along the way, tall, slim-limbed Marsborn children will run shrieking around the standing stones of the “Rock Garden” of ejecta on the edge of Cape York’s Odyssey crater,  and young couples will stand on the edge of Victoria Crater at sunset, holding hands as they watch the achingly-beautiful sapphire spark of Earth setting across the crater, bathing the landscape in a silvery-purple light.

And beyond that, in the far future, when restless Marsborn explorers are crumping across the snows of Europa, sloshing through the sucking tholin lakes of Titan, and standing on the edge of Miranda’s Verona Rupes cliffs, they will still speak the names “Spirit” and “Opportunity”  with reverence and awe, honouring their achievements.

And I have no doubt at all that one day, when men and women from Earth, the Moon, Mars, Ganymede and all the other settled worlds of Sol’s system are building their homes on the fields and lakesides of worlds orbiting distant stars, unable to find the faraway Sun in their star-crowded night skies, they will still speak the names “Spirit” and “Opportunity” with pride.

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