Mars' reddish dust covers the Opportunity rover's solar panels in this downward-looking view, assembled from images taken by the NASA probe's panoramic camera from Dec. 21 to 24, 2011. The mosaic was put together in such a way as to omit the mast on which the camera is mounted.
One of the trickiest things that NASA's Opportunity rover does on Mars is take a look at itself — but for the six-wheeled rover, it's been a vital part of its eight-year-plus mission on the Red Planet.
This picture illustrates why the occasional once-over is so important: Because Opportunity relies on solar power, mission controllers back on Earth need to know how much dust is accumulating on the rover's solar panels. It's been a while since the dust has been swept off by Martian winds, and so there's quite a bit of dust covering the power-generating cells right now.
The dust hasn't been so much of a concern during the previous southern winters that Opportunity has spent in Meridiani Planum on the Red Planet. But as winter approaches this time, NASA has decided to position the rover on a north-facing slope so that it can soak up as much of the sun's weak rays as possible. That's a strategy that the rover team employed in the past with Opportunity's twin, the Spirit rover, which now lies moribund in Gusev Crater on the other side of the planet.
Opportunity is conducting research in place as it sits on the north-facing slope of a ridge known as Greeley Haven, on the rim of the 14-mile-wide Endeavour Crater. The rover's going to be there for a while: Mars' southern winter solstice takes place on March 30, and the planet's seasons last roughly twice as long as Earth's. So we'll be seeing a lot of the rover's surroundings at Greeley Haven — including the current focus of its scientific studies, a rock called Amboy.
For comparison's sake, here's a picture of Opportunity's relatively clean solar panels from September 2007:
NASA / JPL-Caltech / Cornell
This mosaic shows Opportunity's solar panels in September 2007 as seen by the rover's panoramic camera. The downward-looking view has been assembled to omit the mast on which the camera is mounted.
And here's a real treat from space artist Don Davis: A painstakingly assembled mosaic of imagery from Opportunity, looking east-southeast over Endeavour Crater to the far side just before sunset. You can see Opportunity's dust-covered solar panels and color-calibration sundial in the foreground. In the distance, you can see the long shadows cast on the crater floor — including the slight bump of a shadow that could well have been cast by Opportunity itself. It's a picture to marvel over, and astronomer/educator Stuart Atkinson does his fair share of marveling on the "Road to Endeavour" website. Emily Lakdawalla provides further details about Davis' rendition on the Planetary Society Blog.
Copyright Don Davis / NASA / JPL / Cornell
Don Davis created this mosaic from imagery sent back from Mars by NASA's Opportunity rover as the sun was setting on Jan. 27. The rover is looking out from a ridge toward the far rim of Endeavour Crater. The shadow of the ridge, and Opportunity itself, can be made out on the crater floor, toward the right edge of the image.
A little section of this picture served as this week's "Where in the Cosmos" picture puzzle on the Cosmic Log Facebook page earlier today. It didn't take long for Josh Jones to figure out what the picture showed, and to reward his mastery of a Martian mystery, I'm sending him a pair of 3-D glasses. Join the Cosmic Log Facebook community and stay tuned for the next "Where in the Cosmos" puzzle.
Speaking of Mars, my space-watching colleagues and I touched upon Red Planet research and other cosmic topics during the Weekly Space Hangout on Thursday. To wind up the week, here's the webcast, courtesy of Universe Today's Fraser Cain:
In this edition of the Weekly Space Hangout, we talk about the non-discovery of faster-than-light neutrinos, the possibility of quakes on Mars, and explanation for the ridge on Iapetus, the 25th anniversary of SN1987A, and a steamy water world.
Not to date myself or anything, but fishing is different than when I was a kid. Back in the day, fishermen (and women) didn't wear suits covered with sponsor's logos; their boats weren't nearly as fast as today's; and I don't think I ever saw them signing autographs.
Mike Silva / AP
Kevin Combs, of Huntington, Texas, prepares for the start of the Bassmaster Classic fishing tournament, Friday, Feb. 24, 2012, at the Red River South Marina and Resort in Bossier City, La.
Mike Silva / AP
Edwin Evers signs an autograph at the start of the Bassmaster Classic fishing tournament at the Red River South Marina and Resort in Bossier City, La. on Friday.
Mike Silva / AP
Jeff Kriet, left, talks with Kevin VanDam as they compete in the Bassmaster Classic fishing tournament, Friday.
On the Bassmaster site, angler Michael Iaconelli describes how the pros approach different water conditions: Guys who know how to research old maps and use Google Earth are the ones to watch. They’ll find little backwater places off the beaten path that are running clear and holding feeding bass. They’re also the ones who’ll be fishing out of small boats. This will not be an equal event or be wide open by any means. You’ll know real quick who’s in the hunt and who isn’t.
Students from Archbishop Prendergast High School react on Friday after it is announced that they will merge schools with Monsignor Bonner High School, and not be closed.
Alex Brandon / AP
Students from Archbishop Prendergast High School react after the announcement.
Alex Brandon / AP
Students from Archbishop Prendergast High School react before news is announced that they will merge schools with Monsignor Bonner High School, and not be closed, Friday, Feb. 24, 2012 in Drexel Hills, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Alex Brandon / AP
Students from Monsignor Bonner High School wait on Friday for an announcement about whether they will merge schools with Archbishop Prendergast High School, and not be closed.
In his message to lawmakers, Archbishop Chaput said, "we need expanded EITC (education-incentive tax credits) funds and opportunity scholarships to help our schools survive." The Archbishop said that without that support, the fate of the schools would be right back to where they were a few weeks ago, when they were slated for closure.
Senior research associate Svetlana Yashina inspects a container with an outgrowth of the Silene stenophylla, considered as the oldest plant ever to be regenerated, at a laboratory of the Institute of Cell Biophysics under the Russian Academy Of Sciences in the town of Pushchino, 62 miles south of the capital Moscow on Friday.The seeds of a flowering plant also known as the narrow-leafed campion, were found by Russian scientists on the banks of the Kolyma River in Siberia in an Ice Age ground-squirrel's burrow containing fruit and seeds that had been stuck in the permafrost for about 30,000 years. The permafrost, which serves as a natural depository for ancient life forms, may help researchers and scientists with their future experiments to revive other species, according to local media.
Denis Sinyakov / Reuters
The Silene stenophylla, considered as the oldest plant ever to be regenerated, is seen at a laboratory of the Institute of Cell Biophysics.
Denis Sinyakov / Reuters
Seeds of the Silene stenophylla, considered as the oldest plant ever to be regenerated, are seen in this picture taken by a microscope with a 16-fold zoom at a laboratory of the Institute of Cell Biophysics.
"This is a plant that has a lot of built-in mechanisms for survival in a harsh environment," Shen-Miller told LiveScience. Most plant seeds die within a few years, she said. But a few hearty species, including the 1,300-year-old lotus and S. stenophylla have built-in mechanisms that either preserve or repair the plants' DNA.
A couple write love messages on a board as they take part in an attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the longest love letter in Bucharest on Friday during Dragobete, the traditional Romanian lovers' day which is similar to Valentine's Day. The previous record for the longest love letter was set in the U.S. in 2008 and involved 1,075 contributions.
Radu Sigheti / Reuters
A girl writes a love message which reads, "Love is like a multi-colored flower, Make it grow" as she takes part in an attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the longest love letter in Bucharest.
Farmers cut cassava to dry while harvesting on a field in Hoa Binh province, outside Hanoi on Friday.
Kham / Reuters
A farmer dries cassava while harvesting on a field in Hoa Binh province.
Kham / Reuters
Farmers load cut sugarcane onto a truck during harvest season in Thanh Hoa province.
Kham / Reuters
A farmer loads cut sugarcane onto a truck during harvest season in Thanh Hoa province, 124 miles south of Hanoi on Friday. Vietnam will export 100,000-150,000 tonnes of sugar this year to help offset a domestic surplus as supply is expected to outstrip demand, the agriculture ministry said on Tuesday.
Kham / Reuters
Farmers plant rice on a paddy field in Hoa Binh province.
Supporters of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad scuffle with Tunisian police near the venue where Friends of Syria conference is convening, in Tunis, Tunisia, on Feb. 24.
Mohamed Messara / EPA
Supporters of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad shout slogans outside the venue where Friends of Syria conference is convening, in Tunis, Tunisia, on Feb. 24.
TUNIS, Tunisia -- The main opposition Syrian National Council outlined on Friday its vision for a post-Assad Syria, and appealed for the weapons required to make that happen.
The SNC announced it was proposing an interim presidential council of national leaders and a truth and reconciliation committee at a meeting of the “Friends of Syria” group of 70 Western and Arab nations in Tunisia Friday.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said ahead of the meeting that rebel fighters would become “increasingly capable,” saying they will “from somewhere, somehow, find the means to defend themselves as well as begin offensive measures."
There was drama as the conference got under way at the Palace Hotel in Tunis, when several hundred pro-Assad protesters breached the grounds, forcing Clinton to be diverted to her hotel and delaying her appearance at the meeting. Police wielding batons stopped them getting inside the hotel itself and drove them out the parking lot after about 15 minutes.
Tunisian police wielding batons beat back several dozen protesters trying to enter the venue of an international meeting on the Syria crisis in Tunis on Feb. 24.
Fethi Belaid / AFP - Getty Images
Tunisian and Syrian's Bashar al Assad Supporters shout slogans during a demonstration in front of the conference hotel during the first "Friends of Syria" conference in Tunis on Feb. 24. Western and Arab nations are to challenge Syria to allow in desperately needed humanitarian aid at a meeting today aimed at tackling President Bashar al-Assad's increasingly bloody crackdown.
International pressure is mounting on Syrian leader Bashar Assad, as diplomats from about 80 nations gather in Tunisia to discuss the crisis. NBC's Richard Engel reports.
An Afghan boy who works at a bakery watches a protest outside his window in Kabul on Feb. 24. Twelve people were killed on Friday in the bloodiest day yet in protests that have raged across Afghanistan over the desecration of copies of the Muslim holy book at a NATO military base with riot police and soldiers on high alert braced for more violence.
Parwiz / Reuters
Afghan men shout anti-U.S. slogans during a demonstration in Jalalabad province on Feb. 24.
KABUL, Afghanistan -- Twelve people were killed Friday during protests in Afghanistan over the burning of copies of the Quran at a NATO base, officials said, despite Thursday's written apology from Barack Obama.
Seven people were killed and 50 wounded in the western province of Herat, while two more were killed in Khost in the east. Three people were killed earlier during protests.
On Thursday, two U.S. soldiers were shot dead during a protest by a man wearing an Afghan government soldier's uniform, as a letter from Obama apologizing for the Quran burnings was delivered to Afghan president Hamid Karzai. Advertise | AdChoices
The U.S.-led military coalition in Afghanistan says the Qurans and other Islamic texts were sent to a burn pit by mistake.
An ethnic Naga woman wearing traditional clothing participates in a rally, urging the Indian government to expedite the India-Naga political dialogue for a positive solution in New Delhi, India, on Feb. 25, 2012. India is offering wide autonomy to the Nagas though it has already rejected the demand of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland rebels' for an independent homeland in northeastern India bordering Myanmar, where most of the 2 million Nagas live. The Naga rebels began fighting more than 50 years ago, although a cease-fire has held since it was signed in 1997.
Kevin Frayer / AP
Ethnic Naga men wear traditional clothing and participate in a rally, urging the Indian government to expedite the India-Naga political dialogue for a positive solution in New Delhi, India, on Feb. 25.
Kevin Frayer / AP
Ethnic Naga women wear traditional clothing before the beginning of a rally urging the Indian government to expedite the India-Naga political dialogue for a positive solution, in New Delhi, India, on Feb. 25.
A man shouts slogans as he distributes electoral leaflets of the United Conservatives' Front candidates for the upcoming parliamentary elections outside the Tehran University compound on Feb. 24, 2012.
A man holds electoral leaflets for candidate Zohreh Elahiyan outside Tehran University on Feb. 24, 2012.
Campaigning has begun for Iran's March 2 parliamentary election, the first nationwide vote since the disputed 2009 re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that sparked eight months of unrest and a crushing state response.
3,444 candidates are standing for election to the 290-seat parliament. Officials and state media have called for a big turnout to counter "enemies' threats" against the regime.
Morteza Nikoubazl / Reuters
A woman holds election leaflets in central Tehran on Feb. 24, 2012.
With a no-show by leading pro-reform groups, loyalists of Iran's most powerful figure, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and backers of Ahmadinejad, who is not a cleric, will compete for a majority.
Khamenei's supporters, sharply critical of Ahmadinejad's economic policies, look set to win the vote as international sanctions imposed over Tehran's disputed nuclear programme make life harder for ordinary Iranians.
"Iran has become a one-party system: the party of Khamenei," said Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran analyst at the Carnegie Endowment. "The most important qualification for aspiring members of parliament is obsequiousness to the Supreme Leader."
-- Reuters and Agence France-Presse contributed to this report
Refugee boys from Myanmar look for items to salvage on Feb. 24 from the ruins of a burnt mosque in the Um-Piam refugee camp after a fire engulfed big part of it near Mae Sot on Feb. 23 .
Damir Sagolj / Reuters
Refugees make a temporary shelter on Feb. 24 at the ruins of their burnt home at the Um-Piam refugee camp after a fire engulfed big part of it near Mae Sot on Feb. 23.
Damir Sagolj / Reuters
A refugee boy from Myanmar pauses from salvaging small items on Feb. 24 in the ruins of his burnt home at the Um-Piam refugee camp after a fire engulfed big part of it near Mae Sot on Feb. 23.
Damir Sagolj / Reuters
A refugee boy from Myanmar searches for small items in ruins of his burnt home on Feb. 24 at the Um-Piam refugee camp after a fire engulfed big part of it near Mae Sot on Feb. 23.
By Natalia Jimenez, NBC News
A huge fire yesterday at a refugee camp along the border of Myanmar and Thailand destroyed about 5,000 homes. We published the photos of the flames engulfing the bamboo shacks yesterday in PhotoBlog. Due to the flammable nature of the bamboo, the fire quickly spread. The camp is home to about 17,000 Myanmar refugees fleeing fighting between the army and ethnic minorities.
According to AP:
No casualties were reported from the fire that destroyed about a fifth of the dwellings at the Umpiem Mai camp in Tak province, Thai district official Pot Ruworanan said.
The Thailand Burma Border Consortium, which coordinates aid for the refugrees, said on its website that an undetermined number of people suffered burns and three mosques and two nursery schools were destroyed.
Pakistani policemen take position during a militant attack on a police station in Peshawar on Feb. 24, 2012. Four policemen were killed when suicide bombers blew themselves up in the attack, officials said.
Mohammad Sajjad / AP
A police officer stands at a police station after a suicide attack in Peshawar on Feb. 24, 2012.
The machine — dubbed 'Pablito' — is taking tens of thousands of microscopic shots of the 291-sq. foot painting to allow experts to penetrate the work like never before and see its real condition after a hectic life traveling the globe.
Jaffan Muslim holds a picture of her daughter Arum, 13, who went missing last August, Muslim and others have set up a camp near the parliament in Islamabad, Pakistan, to demand answers. Picture taken Feb. 23, 2012.
The Associated Press reports from Islamabad — Abdul Hameed last saw his son a year ago, being dragged away from their home by Pakistani intelligence operatives along with an Indonesian al-Qaida suspect who had been staying there. The ailing 59-year-old father now has a simple wish.
"I just want to see the face of my son before I die," said Hameed, who has been bedridden for much of the last year with multiple illnesses. "Just that. I have no enmity with anybody, any agency or any government. If you were in my position, what would you do?"
Pakistan's Supreme Court has now given the families a measure of hope by bringing a landmark case against the Inter-Services Intelligence agency, the country's most feared spy network, which is suspected to be behind most of the seizures. The agency, which works closely with the CIA, operates largely outside of the law. Read the full story.
Muhammed Muheisen / AP
A photograph of Gulzar Jaan Ghullzir Jan, 35, who went missing in 2010, is left on a chair inside a tent near the parliament in Islamabad on Feb. 24, 2012.
Muhammed Muheisen / AP
Zuhra Pirzada holds a picture of her husband Fadel, who went missing in 2004, near the parliament in Islamabad on Feb. 23, 2012.
International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Union Local 33 Hollywood stage crewmen Shawn Schull, left, and John Shipton move an Oscar frame for the 84th Annual Academy Awards outside the Hollywood & Highland Center in Los Angeles on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012.
Damian Dovarganes / AP
Lead scenic artist, Dena D'Angelo works on the finishing touches for the set of the 84th Annual Academy Awards on Thursday.
Chris Carlson / AP
Interior designer Waldo Fernandez poses for a picture in the greenroom for the 84th Annual Academy Awards.
Oscar show producer Brian Grazer says that the Hollywood & Highland Center, the hall formerly known as the Kodak where the ceremony takes place, will be redesigned to resemble a "timeless movie theater." It's a fitting transformation on a night whose key nominees are "Hugo" and "The Artist," two love songs to forebears of the flickering image.
Set amid the transition from silent cinema to talking pictures in the late 1920s, "The Artist" is the best-picture favorite and would become the only silent movie to win top honors since the first Oscar show 83 years ago.
Danny Moloshok / Reuters
Scenic artist Sam Costa paints a sign in preparation for the 84th Academy Awards on Thursday.
Ever wonder who's casting ballots for Hollywood's most prestigious award? After eight months of research, the LA Times found the majority of the Academy's members are white, older males. NBC's Mike Taibbi reports.
Physically disabled people clash with riot police in La Paz, Bolivia on Feb. 23, 2012. Hundreds of physically disabled people arrived in La Paz on Thursday after completing a protest march of 994 miles to demand that Bolivia's government offer support in the form of $434 payment to each physically disabled Bolivian, according to local media.
A physically disabled man tries to block a police vehicle during clashes with riot police in the center of La Paz on Thursday.
A wheelchair-bound woman is helped after being affected by tear gas during clashes with riot police.
Russian pole vault athlete Yelena Isinbaeva reacts as she clears the bar to set a new indoor world-record of 5.01 metres during the women's pole vault event at the XL Galan Stockholm Indoor meeting on Feb. 23, 2012 in Stockholm.
Isinbayeva cleared 5.01 meters on her second attempt at Globe Arena, topping her mark set in 2009 at Donetsk, Ukraine, by 1 centimeter. She hasn't won at a major championship since defending her Olympic gold in Beijing four years ago.
"I am so happy that I came back," Isinbayeva told the crowd. "I want to say thanks a lot to my coach and to my dear fans and the crowd. Thanks a lot today for your support."
Reuters: "All the weight is in the claws, it would break your arm," said Elaine Jones, education director for the state's Department of Marine Resources.
Maine State Aquarium Manager Aimee Hayden-Roderiques is pictured holding "Rocky", the 27-lb lobster donated by a shrimp dragger to the Aquarium in this handout photo obtained by Reuters February 23, 2012. The lobster, the largest ever recorded caught in Maine, was released into the ocean Thursday.
The 40-inch male crustacean, about the size of a 3-year-old human, was freed in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
A child standing on a cannon watches a firework during celebration of Defenders of the Fatherland Day in downtown St.Petersburg, Russia, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012. The Defenders of the Fatherland Day, celebrated in Russia on Feb. 23, honors the nation's military and is a nationwide holiday.
Vasily Fedosenko / Reuters
A dog looks out of its cage at the Belarussian border guard's base near the Belarus-Poland border in a forest near the village of Kamenuki, some 360 km (224 miles) south-west of Minsk, Feb. 23, 2012. Belarus marked the Defender of the Fatherland Day on Tuesday.
Dmitry Lovetsky / AP
A child throws snow balls at a member from a historical military club who is wearing a Nazi German uniform in the World War II battle reconstruction during celebration of Defenders of the Fatherland Day in St. Petersburg.
Dmitry Lovetsky / AP
Children play with a grenade launcher during a celebration of Defenders of the Fatherland Day in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Sergei Karpukhin / Reuters
People take part in a rally to support presidential candidate and Russia's current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin at the Luzhniki stadium on the Defender of the Fatherland Day in Moscow Feb. 23, 2012. Russia will go to the polls for a presidential election on March 4.
One of the 200 competiting cows is prepared to be photographed at a studio installed as part of the regional best cow competition called "Schau der Besten" on Feb. 23, 2012 in Verden, Northern Germany. The owner of the winner gets a 25.000 euros prize.
A competitor dives during the women's 3m springboard preliminary round at the FINA Diving World Cup at the Olympic Aquatics Center in London, Feb. 23, 2012.
Richard Heathcote / Getty Images
David Boudia and Nick McCrory of the USA compete in the men's synchronized 10m Platform preliminary round during the 18th FINA Visa Diving World Cup at The Aquatics Center. (EDITORS NOTE: Image was rotated from its original perspective.)
Clive Rose / Getty Images
Yuan Cao and Yanquan Zhang of China in action during the men's synchronized 10m platform preliminary at the London Aquatics Center.
Toby Melville / Reuters
Competitors shower during the women's 3m springboard preliminary round at the FINA Diving World Cup.