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Emily LakdawallaApril 19, 2006

Get used to this view

It's been a slow week so far. That's in part because I'm on the mend from a cold, but it also seems that there just hasn't been a lot happening. That is to say, there is a lot of activity out there in space right now, but it's all rather routine activity. Venus Express and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter are settling in to their orbits and won't be sending back new data for a while. New Horizons, MESSENGER, and Rosetta are cruising along, en route for Jupiter, Venus, and Mars flybys, respectively. Cassini is puttering on at Saturn, presently in between Titan flybys. Mars Express, Mars Global Surveyor, and Mars Odyssey continue their steady return of data, as does SMART-1 at the Moon. Opportunity is still driving and driving across Meridiani Planum, en route to Victoria Crater, but is now in restricted sols so progress has slowed. (Victoria is still 1,500 meters away; it's going to be a while.) And Spirit -- well, there's news about Spirit, but it's hardly urgent. They seem to have found a parking spot for Spirit to weather the Martian winter. Get used to this view of Home Plate and Husband Hill, because Spirit will be seeing a lot of it over the next 8 months, whenever power levels permit the rover to eke a little bit of science activity out of the day.

Spirit Panorama from Low Ridge Haven, sol 811

NASA / JPL-Caltech / Cornell / Jan van Driel

Spirit Panorama from Low Ridge Haven, sol 811
Suffering from a gimpy wheel and dimming sunlight, Spirit settled into a parked position at "Low Ridge Haven" on sol 807 (April 10, 2006). Low Ridge Haven gave Spirit a 10.8-degree tilt toward the north, improving the power output of its solar panels. Even so, it only had power sufficient for one hour of science operations per sol.

Spirit has a much tougher time during the winter than Opportunity does, because Opportunity is sitting almost exactly on the equator, while Spirit is at about twelve degrees south. That extra twelve degrees means that the Sun is twelve degrees lower in the sky for Spirit than it is for Opportunity, which makes Spirit's solar panels much less effective unless the rover is also tilted to the north to expose a greater cross-sectional area of the solar panels to the Sun. The dust is going to make life hard for Spirit, too. We're just getting in to Spirit's winter; the solstice happens on August 8. If Spirit can make it through the solstice, there may be more driving again for Spirit, but not until the Sun comes back southward, around December or January.

So, we'll be seeing a lot of this view, but it's a pretty one. Here is a stunningly colorized version from Marco Di Lorenzo, composed of images that were taken late in the day, lending an atmospheric quality:

Sunset in Gusev Crater, sol 813

NASA / JPL-Caltech / Cornell / Marco Di Lorenzo

Sunset in Gusev Crater, sol 813

Read more: pretty pictures, amateur image processing, Spirit, Mars Exploration Rovers, Mars

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Emily Lakdawalla

Senior Editor and Planetary Evangelist for The Planetary Society
Read more articles by Emily Lakdawalla

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