Oct. 11, 2011 at 6:31 PM ET
It's been a long, lonely three years for NASA's Opportunity rover, which has just finished a 13-mile (21-kilometer) trek from Victoria Crater across the Martian wasteland of Meridiani Planum to Endeavour Crater. A newly released time-lapse video from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory condenses the odyssey down to just three minutes.
The video draws upon a series of 309 images, each taken when the rover stopped driving at the end of a Martian day. The pictures give you a sense of the loneliness that an astronaut might feel while following in Opportunity's wheel tracks. Drifts of sand go on for miles and miles, interrupted only by craters or patches of bedrock.
The soundtrack for the video was created by taking low-frequency recordings from Opportunity's accelerometers and speeding them up by a factor of 1,000. "The sound represents the vibrations of the rover while moving on the surface of Mars," Paolo Bellutta, a roer planner at JPL in Pasadena, Calif., said in NASA's video advisory. "When the sound is louder, the rover was moving on bedrock. When the sound is softer, the rover was moving on sand."
Opportunity's trek to Endeavour is the longest and most ambitious journey ever taken by a probe on another planet. While Oppy was making the trip, its twin on the other side of the planet, the Spirit rover, gave up the ghost after more than six years of operation. Now Opportunity is opening a new chapter in Mars exploration, seven and a half years after its landing.
That ain't bad for a mission that was originally scheduled to last 90 days on the Red Planet. Nevertheless, a little perspective is in order: The crater that Opportunity is exploring happens to be wider than the entire distance that the rover traveled over the past three years.
NBC News' Brian Williams was certainly impressed by the video, declaring on the Nightly News that it was "one of the most incredible motion pictures ever produced."
"Is it just us, or do those Martian sand dunes remind you a lot of the Jersey Shore?" he asked.
Watch Williams go ga-ga in the "Nightly News" video clip below:
More about Mars:
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