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The Mars rover Opportunity took a two-week break from driving across the Red Planet in June as engineers tried to figure out why one of its front wheels was stalling.
But the solar-powered robot didn’t just sit there.
A panoramic camera aboard the spacecraft took sweeping images above a valley known as “Perseverance Valley,” revealing what scientists say may be a spillway where water, ice or wind flowed.
Arizona State University scientists were involved in planning for and processing images from the rover’s color camera called the “Pancam.” The panorama was taken by stitching together more than a week’s worth of photos.
“The Opportunity rover just keeps on going and going and going,” said ASU Professor Jim Bell. He leads a team of seven to eight members at ASU that plans where to point the camera and processes images taken by the Opportunity rover and another, large rover on Mars called Curiosity.
Opportunity has logged almost 28 miles since landing on Mars in 2004, long outlasting the expected life of its original mission. Its twin rover, Spirit, operated until 2011, when it became trapped in sand and stopped transmitting.
Opportunity is close to the equator on Mars, a place where there are not a lot of dust storms and where the basic geology of the planet can be clearly seen, Bell said.
The Opportunity was back driving again in early July.
NASA engineers sent commands to position the rover’s front wheel to point straight ahead, and now the robot relies on only its rear wheels for steering. (The steering on its other front wheel was disabled in 2006.)
The robot is taking a break again from driving for much of July because of the position of the Red Planet this month, relative to the Earth and Sun, interferes with radio communications.
But it won’t be a real vacation.
Opportunity is still taking images.
“We are very, very lucky to be able to come into work in the morning and see Mars every day and be able to share that with the public,” Bell said.
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