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Mars orbiter spies on rover

NASA / JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

The HiRISE camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spies the Opportunity rover on the southwest rim of "Santa Maria" crater on New Year's Eve 2010.

Like a parent who's not quite trusting of their driving teen, one NASA probe is checking out another one that's on the road — on Mars. This image shows how NASA kept tabs from above on its Opportunity rover as it scooted close to the rim of Santa Maria Crater on New Year's Eve.

The image was made with the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, a spy camera mounted on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The rover is seen on the left side of the crater.


Opportunity arrived at the football-field-sized crater on Dec. 16, en route to the 14-mile-wide Endeavour Crater. The rover's tracks leading up to Santa Maria are visible in this image as the faint line on the left side. Click on the link from this NASA Web page to see the highest-resolution view available (481 kilobytes).

The rover is taking pictures of the crater interior to better understand the impact process. It will also explore rocks along the crater rim for several weeks before shoving off for Endeavour. The 3-D image below was taken on Christmas Eve by the rover's front hazard-avoidance camera. The rover's raised robotic arm appears to cast a dragonlike pose. Put on your red-blue glasses to see the 3-D effect:

NASA / JPL-Caltech

A 3-D fisheye view shows the edge of Santa Maria Crater as seen by NASA's Opportunity rover on Dec. 24. Use red-blue glasses to experience the stereo effect.

The rover team will investigate the southeast side of the crater rim from late January through early February, a time when the Red Planet is almost directly behind the sun from Earth's perspective, which limits communications between Earth and Mars. After that, the rover will roll on toward Endeavour, its navigation aided by that ever-watchful eye in the sky.


NASA's schedule means the Opportunity rover will still be at Santa Maria for the seventh anniversary of its landing on Mars, on Jan. 25 (Jan. 24 Pacific time). Click through our "Return to the Red Planet" archive to take a walk down memory lane, or check out the Exploratorium's rover image archive to see all of the rover's pictures, right up to the current date.

John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by hitting the "like" button on the Cosmic Log Facebook page or following msnbc.com's science editor, Alan Boyle, on Twitter (@b0yle).