Jan. 5, 2011 — Ever get the feeling you're being watched? Mars Exploration Rover (MER) Opportunity might have been starting its exploration of a new football pitch-sized crater, but it was unaware its picture was being taken by an orbital paparazzi.
The paparazzi in question is the ever-impressive High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on board NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). It snapped this high-resolution overhead view of Opportunity standing on the southwest edge of "Santa Maria" crater. In this image, taken on New Year's Eve, the rover can be clearly seen, including tire tracks in the Martian regolith (the faint line running from the left edge of the photo to the crater).
Opportunity is enjoying its seventh year trundling across Mars and it will spend the next two months analyzing rocks around Santa Maria, taking the mission into its eighth year. For now, Opportunity is the only operational rover on the Martian surface — NASA still hasn't heard from Opportunity's stranded twin rover Spirit.
Spirit has been silent since March 22, 2010, when the Martian winter zapped energy from its batteries, forcing the tough robot into a hibernation state. MER scientists are hopeful that as Mars enters springtime, the rover might wake up. However, the likelihood of this happening will begin to diminish after mid-March 2011 when the Martian days (called "sols") begin to shorten again.