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Opportunity's big picture

NASA / JPL-Caltech
The Opportunity rover captured this stereo image of Mars' Victoria Crater on Oct. 5.

Viewing the image through red-blue glasses produces a 3-D effect.

To mark the Opportunity rover’s 1,000th Martian day of operation, NASA has released a panorama of the crater that the robot is currently exploring – and you’ve got to see this 8-meg bad boy in 3-D. So dig out the red-blue glasses and take a virtual field trip to Mars.

The wide-angle view looking down into Victoria Crater was actually taken more than a month ago, back on Sol 959 (a sol is the Martian day, equal to 24 hours, 39 minutes and 35 seconds). But Opportunity hasn't wandered away from Victoria - it's continuing to survey the half-mile-wide (800-meter-wide) crater's rim, looking for the best place to venture down into the dune-covered interior.

Victoria's big attraction is the layered bedrock on the way down. The crater is about 230 feet (70 meters deep), which should provide an unprecedented opportunity to analyze the Red Planet's geological history in depth. If Opportunity's luck holds up, it will likely still be working on the rock analysis when it marks its third full Earth year on Mars, next Jan. 24. As I've said for months: Not bad for a mission that was originally scheduled to last just 90 days.

The Spirit rover, Opportunity's twin on the other side of the planet, marked its 1,000-sol milestone a couple of weeks ago - and it's still making scientific observations in place while it waits for the winter sunshine to strengthen. Once the solar-powered Spirit starts generating enough power to support mobile operations again, it will head back toward a feature called Home Plate to study some deposits that have been intriguing scientists for months.

Now, about those 3-D glasses: The rovers have produced scores of stereo images that have been converted to anaglyphs - that is, pictures that create the illusion of 3-D perspective when viewed with the kinds of red-blue spectacles associated with bad sci-fi flicks.

I've grown accustomed to carrying a cardboard pair of 3-D glasses with me wherever I go, just in case I run into an anaglyph I can't resist (or someone I need to impress with my geekitude). You should be able to find the spectacles at novelty stores, and NASA's STEREO mission even provides directions for making your own. If you really want to impress your geek friends, you might want to get something more durable than cardboard.

You can use these glasses for much more than the Mars missions: Eventually, the STEREO spacecraft will be providing 3-D images of the sun, and there are already some practice images up on the STEREO Web site. Besides, you never know when "The Creature From the Black Lagoon" will make a reappearance.