NASA / JPL-Caltech / Cornell / Arizona State Univ.
This image of Mars released Thursday combines 817 component images taken between Dec. 21, 2011, and May 8, 2012, by the rover Opportunity.
updated 7/9/2012 7:51:21 PM ET 2012-07-09T23:51:21

A long-lived NASA rover on Mars has beamed home a stunning panoramic view of the Red Planet, a spectacular picture that a space agency description billed as the "next best thing to being there."

The new Martian panorama was snapped by NASA's Mars rover Opportunity, a six-wheeled robot that has spent more than eight years exploring the Red Planet. The image shows a full-circle view of Mars near a spot called "Greeley Haven," where Opportunity hunkered down during its last Martian winter.

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"The view provides rich geologic context for the detailed chemical and mineral work that the team did at Greeley Haven over the rover's fifth Martian winter, as well as a spectacularly detailed view of the largest impact crater that we've driven to yet with either rover over the course of the mission," said Jim Bell of Arizona State University in Tempe, the lead scientist for Opportunity's Pancam imaging system, in a statement Thursday.

Opportunity's new Mars panorama is actually a mosaic of 817 different images combined like a giant puzzle to make one huge image. It shows a stark landscape broken only by the Opportunity rover's own tracks and the robot's solar array.

Want a bigger view? See a 3-megabyte panorama or even larger versions

While there are varying shades of red (and even some blue) in the Mars panorama, the image is actually a false-color view. Its colors were added artificially to "enhance the differences between materials in the scene," NASA officials explained in an image description. [More Mars Photos by Opportunity Rover]

Opportunity created the Mars panorama between Dec. 21, 2011, and May 8, 2012, while it was stationed at Greeley Haven, an outcrop of rock located on the rim of the giant Endeavour crater that has been the rover's main object of study since August 2011.

Rover mission managers named the outcrop as a tribute to Mars scientist Ronald Greeley (1939-2011), who served as a mission team member and taught planetary science at Arizona State University.

"Ron Greeley was a valued colleague and friend, and this scene, with its beautiful wind-blown drifts and dunes, captures much of what Ron loved about Mars," said Steve Squyres of Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., principal investigator for Opportunity and Spirit.

NASA launched Opportunity and its sister rover Spirit toward Mars on a mission that was originally slated to last 90 days. The two rovers far outlasted their warranties, with Spirit exploring its Gusev Crater landing site until getting stuck in deep Martian sand. NASA declared Spirit's mission over in May 2011.

Opportunity, meanwhile, keeps on trucking across the Martian surface.

On Monday, Opportunity logged its 3,000th Martian day, which mission scientists call "sols." The rover has driven a total distance of 21.4 miles (34.4 km) since landing on Mars, according to mission managers.

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Video: Panoramic view of Mars

  1. Closed captioning of: Panoramic view of Mars

    >>> well, this looks like a vista in the american southwest , but it's far from that. this is the view from the mars rover opportunity . this one picture is actually 817 digital images pasted together the result of four months of hard work of photography and it's hard to believe we have such a crisp view from another planet.

Photos: Month in Space: January 2014

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  1. Southern stargazing

    Stars, galaxies and nebulas dot the skies over the European Southern Observatory's La Silla Paranal Observatory in Chile, in a picture released on Jan. 7. This image also shows three of the four movable units that feed light into the Very Large Telescope Interferometer, the world's most advanced optical instrument. Combining to form one larger telescope, they are greater than the sum of their parts: They reveal details that would otherwise be visible only through a telescope as large as the distance between them. (Y. Beletsky / ESO) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A balloon's view

    Cameras captured the Grandville High School RoboDawgs' balloon floating through Earth's upper atmosphere during its ascent on Dec. 28, 2013. The Grandville RoboDawgs’ first winter balloon launch reached an estimated altitude of 130,000 feet, or about 25 miles, according to coaches Mike Evele and Doug Hepfer. It skyrocketed past the team’s previous 100,000-feet record set in June. The RoboDawgs started with just one robotics team in 1998, but they've grown to support more than 30 teams at public schools in Grandville, Mich. (Kyle Moroney / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Spacemen at work

    Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov, right, and Sergey Ryazanskiy perform maintenance on the International Space Station on Jan. 27. During the six-hour, eight-minute spacewalk, Kotov and Ryazanskiy completed the installation of a pair of high-fidelity cameras that experienced connectivity issues during a Dec. 27 spacewalk. The cosmonauts also retrieved scientific gear outside the station's Russian segment. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Special delivery

    The International Space Station's Canadian-built robotic arm moves toward Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Cygnus autonomous cargo craft as it approaches the station for a Jan. 12 delivery. The mountains below are the southwestern Alps. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Accidental art

    A piece of art? A time-lapse photo? A flickering light show? At first glance, this image looks nothing like the images we're used to seeing from the Hubble Space Telescope. But it's a genuine Hubble frame that was released on Jan. 27. Hubble's team suspects that the telescope's Fine Guidance System locked onto a bad guide star, potentially a double star or binary. This caused an error in the tracking system, resulting in a remarkable picture of brightly colored stellar streaks. The prominent red streaks are from stars in the globular cluster NGC 288. (NASA / ESA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Supersonic test flight

    A camera looking back over Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo's fuselage shows the rocket burn with a Mojave Desert vista in the background during a test flight of the rocket plane on Jan. 10. Cameras were mounted on the exterior of SpaceShipTwo as well as its carrier airplane, WhiteKnightTwo, to monitor the rocket engine's performance. The test was aimed at setting the stage for honest-to-goodness flights into outer space later this year, and eventual commercial space tours.

    More about SpaceShipTwo on PhotoBlog (Virgin Galactic) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Red lagoon

    The VLT Survey Telescope at the European Southern Observatory's Paranal Observatory in Chile captured this richly detailed new image of the Lagoon Nebula, released on Jan. 22. This giant cloud of gas and dust is creating intensely bright young stars, and is home to young stellar clusters. This image is a tiny part of just one of 11 public surveys of the sky now in progress using ESO telescopes. (ESO/VPHAS team) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Fire on the mountain

    This image provided by NASA shows a satellite view of smoke from the Colby Fire, taken by the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer aboard NASA's Terra spacecraft as it passed over Southern California on Jan. 16. The fire burned more than 1,863 acres and forced the evacuation of 3,700 people. (NASA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Where stars are born

    An image captured by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Orion Nebula, an immense stellar nursery some 1,500 light-years away. This false-color infrared view, released on Jan. 15, spans about 40 light-years across the region. The brightest portion of the nebula is centered on Orion's young, massive, hot stars, known as the Trapezium Cluster. But Spitzer also can detect stars still in the process of formation, seen here in red hues. (NASA / JPL-Caltech) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Cygnus takes flight

    Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares rocket rises from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va, on Jan. 9. The rocket sent Orbital's Cygnus cargo capsule on its first official resupply mission to the International Space Station. (Chris Perry / NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A long, long time ago...

    This long-exposure picture from the Hubble Space Telescope, released Jan. 8, is the deepest image ever made of any cluster of galaxies. The cluster known as Abell 2744 appears in the foreground. It contains several hundred galaxies as they looked 3.5 billion years ago. Abell 2744 acts as a gravitational lens to warp space, brightening and magnifying images of nearly 3,000 distant background galaxies. The more distant galaxies appear as they did more than 12 billion years ago, not long after the Big Bang. (NASA / NASA via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Frosty halo

    Sun dogs are bright spots that appear in the sky around the sun when light is refracted through ice crystals in the atmosphere. These sun dogs appeared on Jan. 5 amid brutally cold temperatures along Highway 83, north of Bismarck, N.D. The temperature was about 22 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, with a 50-below-zero wind chill.

    Slideshow: The Year in Space (Brian Peterson / The Bismarck Tribune via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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