This image from the panoramic camera on NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity shows remains of the heat shield that protected the spacecraft as it barreled through the martian atmosphere. The image was taken on the rover's 325th martian day, or sol, (Dec. 22, 2004).
The picture features the main heat shield debris when Opportunity was approximately 40 meters (about 131 feet) away from it. Many rover-team engineers were taken aback when they realized the heat shield had inverted, or turned itself inside out. The height of the pictured debris is about 1.3 meters (about 4.3 feet). The original diameter was 2.65 meters (8.7 feet), though it has obviously been deformed.
The fact that the heat shield is now inside out makes it more challenging to evaluate the state of the thermal protection system that is now on the inside. In coming sols, Opportunity will investigate the debris with its microscopic imager.
Engineers who designed and built the heat shield are thrilled to see the hardware on the surface of Mars. This provides a unique opportunity to look at how the thermal protection system material survived the actual Mars entry. Team members hope this information will allow them to compare their predictions to what really happened.
The image is an approximately true-color rendering generated using the panoramic camera's 600, 530 and 480 nanometer filters.