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Image: Mars
Nasa / Jpl / University Of Arizo
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter image shows “Eagle crater," the small impact crater where Opportunity’s lander came to rest. The image is one of a gallery of photos released by NASA on Wednesday.
By Senior space writer
updated 11/29/2006 9:12:27 PM ET 2006-11-30T02:12:27

NASA has released new imagery taken by its Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, a sweeping gallery that includes the Endurance Craterwhich NASA’s Opportunity rover explored for ten months.

The zoom lens photo album comes courtesy of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s High Resolution Science Imaging Experiment, also known as HiRISE.

Imagery released on Wednesday shows the initial impact site for the Opportunity Mars rover with its parachute resting atop the Martian landscape, the spacecraft’s heat shield at a different spot, and the airbag-cushioned lander itself resting inside the floor of a small impact feature — later dubbed Eagle Crater.

The HiRISE camera takes images of 3.5-mile-wide (6-kilometer) swaths as the orbiter flies at about 7,800 mph (12,552 kilometers per hour) between 155 and 196 miles (250 to 316 kilometers) above the planet. The camera resolves geologic features as small as 40 inches (101 centimeters) across.

Easy-to-find hardware
That sharpshooting skill will be put to good use in weeks to come, said Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory in Tucson.

Upcoming targets are “all the easy-to-find hardware on Mars,” McEwen noted in a press statement. That includes the Spirit rover — Opportunity’s sister ship investigating the Columbia Hills – as well as the Viking 1 and Viking 2 landers that touched down in 1976, and the Mars Pathfinder that landed in July 1997.

In October, HiRISE was able to spot the Opportunity rover shortly after the Mars machinery reached the large Victoria Crater — an exploration site that the robot is presently studying.

The new imagery from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is the first of what is being billed as “a nonstop flood of incredibly detailed Mars images” that are to be taken during the spacecraft's two-year primary science mission. The orbiter is expected to revolutionize our understanding of the Red Planet, as well as help discern safe sites for future robotic and human missions to Mars.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter was launched in August 2005. After a lengthy period of aerobraking around the Red Planet — a technique used to slow the craft down and enter a desired orbit — the spacecraft began its science mapping mission earlier this month.

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