NASA has released a strikingly clear panoramic image of the surface of Mars taken by the agency's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity during its fifth winter on the planet. During the four winter months, the rover stayed stationary because the low levels of sunlight did not provide adequate power for the craft to explore the planetary surface.
The false-color image was produced by combining 817 images taken between Dec. 21, 2011, and May 8, 2012, by the craft's panoramic camera, or Pancam. The solar panels at the left and right bottom of the image show an accumulation of dust since the craft landed on January 2004, which has further lowered the amount of energy produced by the panels.
Mars north is in the center of the image and the craft's solar panels are angled in that direction to capture the maximum amount of sunlight. The rover's tracks are clearly visible, including a turn in place. The tracks reveal darker soils underlying the thin, bright dust cover.
The rover is sitting on an outcrop called Greeley's Haven, named after Ronald Greeley, an Arizona State University astronomer who was a member of the Mars team who died in 2011. At the far left on the horizon is Rich Morris Hill, named after John R. "Rich" Morris, a JPL aerospace engineer and rover team member who also died in 2011.
The rover is managed by Caltech's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.