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Emily LakdawallaJanuary 21, 2009

What are the rovers up to?

Spirit's been getting some nice views of the spot it spent all of 2008 in, "Home Plate north." Here's a panorama composed of five Navcam frames; you can see over at the right the tracks left behind as Spirit descended from the steep slope, including the sad trench left behind its dragging right front wheel. Spirit was parked with that wheel up on top of Home Plate and its middle and back wheels on the slope; it drove off the slope backwards. Thanks to Eduardo Tesheiner for the panorama. (As a reminder, the Navcam is Spirit's binocular navigational camera system located on the mast; the Navcams have a relatively wide field of view, taking in more of the landscape with one shot than the Pancams do, but at lower resolution and monochrome, unlike the color Pancam instrument.)

Spirit panorama, sol 1,793

NASA / JPL-Caltech / Eduardo Tesheiner

Spirit panorama, sol 1,793
On Sol 1,793 (January 18, 2009), Spirit paused to contemplate the spot where it had spent all of 2008, the steep slope of "Home Plate north." Visible at right are the tracks Spirit left as it descended the slope, including a trench dug by its sticky right front wheel.

The view below contains the same images, but Michael Howard has dropped in a 3D model of the Spirit rover, showing where it was parked for the long Martian winter. Coooool.

Simulated view of Spirit's Home Plate North parking spot

NASA / JPL-Caltech / Michael Howard

Simulated view of Spirit's Home Plate North parking spot
On sol 1,793, Spirit captured a Navcam panorama containing a view of Home Plate North, the spot where it spent its third Martian winter (and all of the Earth year 2008). Michael Howard has dropped in a computer model of Spirit at the winter parking spot, providing a sense of scale and of the steep angle at which Spirit was tilted in order to catch the wan winter sunlight.

Although Spirit just got moving for its fourth Martian summer field season, that season is not going to last very long. I've been told by someone on the science team that they only have until October to do science around Home Plate before they'll have to park again on a good north-facing slope from which to wait out the next winter. That's only nine months, folks! Nine months will go by fast.

Meanwhile, Opportunity is motoring along. Here's the latest forward view from sol 1,774, following two 100-meter drives that took it southwest of the spot, "Santorini," where it spent Mars' solar conjunction. I'm intrigued by how cobbly the bedrock in front of Opportunity looks. In other places the bedrock looks like it's been scoured flat; here there's a little topography to that bedrock, under all the dunes.

Opportunity Navcam panorama, sol 1,774

NASA / JPL-Caltech / Michael Howard

Opportunity Navcam panorama, sol 1,774
A four-frame panorama of Opportunity's forward view on sol 1,774 (January 19, 2009) shows more of the trackless dunes of Meridiani Planum.

Opportunity has now traveled about one kilometer south of Victoria crater, while working its way a couple hundred meters to the west. Only another eleven or so kilometers to go to get to the rim of Endeavour -- which lies to the south and a little east. There's still a long, long, long way to go.

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

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Emily Lakdawalla

Solar System Specialist for The Planetary Society
Read more articles by Emily Lakdawalla

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