Mars, An Hour Ago
It's springtime on Mars. Except instead of flowers blooming and eggs hatching, an interplanetary rover is coming back online. On May 8, Opportunity, the one surviving Mars Exploration Rover, began its ninth (Earth) year (only five Martian years have passed) on the red planet by rolling down off its winter hibernation spot -- a 15 degree perch facing the sun -- and having its systems tested by the rover drivers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Everything seems to be a go, so Opportunity is on its way to its first destination, "a nearby putative dusty target to examine the nature and origin of Martian dust, then [to] locate a wider, light-toned vein around the north end of Cape York," according to NASA. Opportunity has traveled over 21 miles on Mars.
One of the best parts of space exploration these days is getting to follow along in (nearly) real time. As we were catching up on Twitter yesterday (you can follow us here), we saw this posted by a JPL visualization producer, "Can you believe this image was online less than an hour after being taken on the surface of Mars?" He told us that this image of newly dug tracks on the Martian landscape was taken by Opportunity at 2:15 a.m. Pacific time (JPL is in Pasadena, California) -- that's 15:01 Local Mean Solar Time on Sol 2953 on Mars, if you were wondering -- and was available by 3:12 a.m. Oh sure, we're all used to the instant access we have to everything these days, but it's still pretty exciting to have a view of these distant worlds so close at our fingertips, isn't it? Admittedly it takes a few more days, but eventually all these RAW images end up in Opportunity's image database.
Photo: NASA / JPL