(Sen) - As NASA's Curiosity rover gets closer to its August arrival at Mars, the exploration rover Opportunity reminds us that it has spent more than 3,000 sols - Martian days - exploring the red planet.
The stunning panorama, above, has been created from 817 component images taken by Opportunity's panoramic camera - Pancam - between December 21, 2011 and May 8, 2012. The pictures were taken from a Sun facing slope at Greeley Haven on the edge of the Endeavour Crater where Opportunity spent the Martian winter re-charging its solar arrays.
Click here to access full and high resolution versions of the image.
Opportunity's dusty solar arrays can be seen in the picture, as can its tracks. The image is shown in false colour to emphasise differences in the materials in the scene - the rover's tracks have exposed a darker soil under a thin bright layer of dust.
Jim Bell, Pancam's lead scientist said: "The view provides rich geologic context for the detailed chemical and mineral work that the team did at Greeley Haven over the rover's fifth Martian winter, as well as a spectacularly detailed view of the largest impact crater that we've driven to yet with either rover over the course of the mission."
The image was released this week by NASA to celebrate two milestones - the fifteenth anniversary of the landing of NASA's Mars Pathfinder rover on July 4 1997, and the fact that Opportunity has spent 3,000 sols on the planet.
The Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity were launched in 2003 and arrived at Mars in January 2004. Their primary mission was for three months and was to learn about the history of water on Mars. Over eight years after completing its primary mission and Opportunity is still making tracks across the red planet. July 2, 2012 marked 3,000 sols for Opportunity. Spirit operated until 2010 when its power ran out and communication with the rover ceased.
Opportunity set out for a new season of exploration on 8 May 2012, and its future goals include investigating a bright patch of dust, unusual for the Meridiani region, and searching for ancient clay along the rim of the Endeavour crater.
Click here to read Sen's feature on the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity.
Steve Squyres, principal investigator for the Mars Exploration Rovers mission, recently told Sen: “The way you predict the lifetime of space flight hardware is by doing tests to failure of critical components. We've never done such testing... there was never any reason to. So Opportunity could fail tomorrow, or could keep going for years... we have no idea”.