NASA has celebrated two Martian milestones by revealing a stunning new 360-degree panoramic image of the planet's surface, taken by a camera on board the venerable Mars rover Opportunity.
Opportunity was one of two rovers sent to Mars in 2003 for a mission originally expected to last just three months. While Opportunity's sister craft, Spirit, stopped functioning in 2010, Opportunity is still going strong. It passed its 3,000th day on the planet last week.
Also, last week brought the 15th anniversary of the presence of NASA robots on Mars. The Pathfinder craft landed on July 4, 1997.
To mark the occasion, NASA scientists have unveiled their latest picture of the red planet, a spectacular panorama showing the view from the dusty outcrop where the rover spent four months over the past winter.
The image is made up of 817 separate pictures taken by Opportunity's pancam, or panoramic camera.
Jim Bell, the lead scientist on the pancam, said in a statement that the view provided "rich geologic context for the detailed chemical and mineral work that the team did at Greeley Haven over the rover's fifth Martian winter."
Bell, of Arizona State University, Tempe, said the picture also offered a detailed view of the largest impact crater to which either rover had driven.
Greeley Haven was named after Ronald Greeley (1939 -- 20011), a member of the Mars Rover team who taught planetary science at Arizona State University.
"Ron Greeley was a valued colleague and friend, and this scene, with its beautiful wind-blown drifts and dunes, captures much of what Ron loved about Mars," Steve Squyres of Cornell University said in a statement.