NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity is spending the seventh anniversary of its landing on Mars investigating a crater called "Santa Maria," which has a diameter about the length of a football field.
This scene looks eastward across the crater. Portions of the rim of a much larger crater, Endurance, appear on the horizon. The panorama spans 225 compass degrees, from north-northwest on the left to south-southwest on the right. It has been assembled from multiple frames taken by the panoramic camera (Pancam) on Opportunity during the 2,453rd and 2,454th Martian days, or sols, of the rover's work on Mars (Dec. 18 and 19, 2010).
The view is presented in false color to emphasize differences among materials in the rocks and the soils. It combines images taken through three different Pancam filters admitting light with wavelengths centered at 753 nanometers (near infrared), 535 nanometers (green) and 432 nanometers (violet). Seams have been eliminated from the sky portion of the mosaic to better simulate the vista a person standing on Mars would see.
Opportunity landed in the Meridiani Planum region of Mars on Jan. 24, 2004, Universal Time (Jan. 25, Pacific Time) for a mission originally planned to last for three months. Since that prime mission, the rover has continued to work in bonus-time extended missions. Both Opportunity and its twin, Spirit, have made important discoveries about wet environments on ancient Mars that may have been favorable for supporting microbial life.
By mid-January 2011, Opportunity reached a location at the southeastern edge of Santa Maria crater. The rover team developed plans for Opportunity to spend a few weeks investigating rocks at that site during solar conjunction, a period when communications between Earth and Mars are curtailed because the sun is almost directly between the two planets.
After completion of its work at Santa Maria, the rover will resume a long-term trek toward Endeavour.