PASADENA, Calif. — NASA's Opportunity rover turned a camera skyward to photograph Mars' moon Deimos eclipsing the sun and also carried out the most complex movements yet of its robotic arm to record microscopic images of a rock, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory said Thursday.
Controllers played the Creedence Clearwater Revival song "Bad Moon Rising" to kick off the rover's activities for a busy Martian day that concluded at 8:52 a.m. PT (11:52 a.m. ET). The pictures of Deimos, "terror" in Greek mythology, were taken by the rover's panoramic camera. They were not immediately released, but would likely be discussed during a news briefing at 1 p.m. ET Friday.
Deimos is the smaller of Mars' two moons; the larger is named Phobos, or "fear." Eclipses are much more common on Mars than on Earth, but much less spectacular.
Two months of operation
Opportunity has been studying rocks and soil in a small crater in an area called Meridiani Planum since landing on the Red Planet in late January.
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Scientists announced this week that Opportunity returned strong evidence that the ground at its landing site was once drenched in water and would have been hospitable to life.
Opportunity's twin, Spirit, which set down on the other side of Mars in early January, has been stopping to study rocks en route to a distant deep crater which scientists are eager to observe.
Opportunity had to execute 490 commands to accomplish a complex operation of its instrument-laden robotic arm as it studied a rock dubbed "Last Chance," JPL said.
The rover created three mosaics with its microscopic camera, recording 128 images with more than 200 arm movements.
JPL said each frame required multiple images because the microscopic imager doesn't have an autofocus and has to take pictures at different distances to ensure one is in focus. Each frame also had to be photographed at a slightly different angle for stereo purposes in building a computer-generated graphic of the rock's topography.
Opportunity also took sky photos in coordination with the European Space Agency orbiter Mars Express.
A hole in 'Humphrey'
Around the planet, Spirit was examining a rock called "Humphrey" when it wrapped up its day late Wednesday, JPL said.
Spirit spent four hours grinding a 0.08-inch (2-millimeter) depression into the rock, brushed the hole clean and then began examining it with instruments.
JPL said engineers identified a software bug that stopped rover's rock abrasion tool — the so-called "RAT" — from working properly earlier this week and will fix it with new software at the end of this month.
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