NASA's Mars Rovers Pass the 50,000-Picture Mark
A view of the sundial-like calibration target on NASA's Mars
Exploration Rover Spirit, with a bit of martian terrain in the
background, is the 50,000th image from the twin rovers that
have been exploring Mars since January.
Image left: This frame from Spirit's panoramic camera is the 50,000th image from NASA's pair of Mars Exploration Rovers. It shows the camera's calibration target, the most photographed subject on Mars, with a glimpse past it to rocks and soil at the location in the "Columbia Hills" where Spirit was examining soil during its 260th martian day, or sol (Sept. 25, 2004). Image credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell
The images stock a treasury of scientific information on scales
from microscopic detail to features on the horizon scores of
kilometers or miles away, and even include glimpses of Mars'
moons, Earth and the Sun. They also provide an always-current
understanding of the surrounding terrain for use by the team of
rover wranglers planning each day's activities on Mars.
There are now more than twice as many images from the two
rovers as from NASA's three previous Mars surface missions
combined: Viking Lander 1, Viking Lander 2 and Mars Pathfinder.
"The cameras on Spirit and Opportunity have been reliable,
sharp eyes for our adventure of exploring some amazing places
on Mars," said Dr. Justin Maki of NASA's Jet Propulsion
Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., an imaging scientist on the rover
team. "The pictures continue to be stunning. One big difference
from earlier Mars surface missions is that the rovers continue
to show us new places and new sights."
All raw images that reach Earth from the rovers are posted
online at http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/gallery/all
Captioned pictures, including the 50,000th image and panoramas
assembled from many individual raw images, are posted at
Both rovers have successfully completed their three-month
primary missions and their first mission extensions. They began
second extensions of their missions on Oct. 1.
Counting stereo instruments as separate right and left cameras,
each rover carries nine cameras.
The stereo panoramic cameras have taken most of the images.
Spirit's accounts for 35 percent of the all images from the
rovers so far; Opportunity's, 32 percent. Color pictures from
these cameras combine individual frames taken through different
filters. Mosaic image products stitch together many contiguous
frames for a larger view. A single 360-degree color panorama
uses more than 100 individual images. Usually when a panoramic
camera is used, it takes a series of shots of the calibration
target through different filters to aid in accurate
interpretation of the other shots it takes. It is no surprise
that Spirit's calibration target happened to be the subject in
the 50,000th image, since it has become the single most
photographed subject on Mars.
Spirit's front hazard-avoidance camera (also two cameras for
stereo views) has the next highest fraction of the rovers'
image catalog at 9 percent. That signifies the importance of
this low-slung camera in Spirit racking up 3.6 kilometers (2.3
miles) of driving so far. Opportunity has driven 1.6 kilometers
(1 mile) and its front hazard-avoidance camera has taken 3
percent of all rover images. Totals for the rear hazard-
avoidance cameras are about one-fifth of the number from the
front cameras on each rover.
Each rover's stereo navigation camera sits up on the mast with
the panoramic camera but takes wider-angle images without
filters. Spirit's navigation camera has taken 7 percent, and
Opportunity's 6 percent, of all rover images.
Some days when Spirit was driving long distances, Opportunity
was busy examining bedrock exposures and soil patches with its
microscopic imager. That camera on Opportunity has taken 4
percent of all rover images; the one on Spirit, 2 percent. Each
spacecraft had a 10th camera on the bottom of its lander, which
contained the rover during the descent through Mars'
atmosphere. Those descent cameras each took three images, as
planned, during the final minute before impact.
NASA's Viking Lander 1 returned 3,542 images while it operated
for 79 months beginning in 1976. Viking Lander 2 returned 3,043
images while it operated for 43 months, also beginning in
1976. Mars Pathfinder returned 16,635 images from its lander
and 628 from its Sojourner rover during 12 weeks of operation
JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in
Pasadena, manages the Mars Exploration Rover project for NASA.
Images and additional information about the project are
available from JPL at http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/
Cornell University at http://athena.cornell.edu
Guy Webster (818) 354-6278
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory