Showcasing the Red Planet

Image Source: NASA

Image Source: NASA

The story was originally published in June 2014.

One of the most iconic photos of Mars, this image was made on 6 January 2004 by Spirit, a robotic rover that was active from 2004—2010. The  mission of the Spirit rover was to determine any traces of water on Mars. It landed near the Gusev crater that was suspected to be a former giant lake. Three  weeks after Spirit’s excursion, a twin rover called Opportunity landed on the other side of the red planet as well. The rover included two fixed cameras that were part of its design—a panoramic camera and a navigation camera.

Spirit’s panoramic camera was designed by Professor Jim Bell of the Cornell University, USA. Four panoramic images made by the camera were stitched together into a single photograph by a group of scientists, researchers and students at Cornell. The original resolution of the photograph was 3498 x 3851 pixels (width x height), also making it the highest resolution image shot on the surface of another planet till date.

In the image, one can see reddish brown soil and large grey rocks. NASA claims that the colours reproduced by this photograph are true to reality. However, other scientists have debated whether these are exact Martian colours or not. In any case, it makes for an iconic image as it was a successful attempt that managed to capture our neighbouring planet in colour, from its surface.

At the onset, Spirit was designed only to last for three months and traverse a distance of merely 1km. However, it lasted for 6 years, travelled 7.7km and made as many as 1,24,000 images. SpiritgotstuckinsoftsoilandNASArecordeditslastcommunicationSpirit got stuck in soft soil and NASA recorded its last communication with the rover in March 2010.

One of the most significant discoveries made by the rover was that of water-altered rocks and carbonates. John Callas, project manager of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover project since March 2006 had said, “In addition to all the scientific discoveries Spirit has given us in her long, productive rover life, she has also given us a great intangible. Mars is no longer a strange, distant and unknown place.”

Tags: Story Behind the Picture, july 2012, Jim Bell, Cornell University, Mars, Spirit Rover, NASA, photograph of Mars, highest resolution image shot on the surface of Mars