It may be a long time before humans are able to get to Mars, but according to NASA, we have the "next best thing."
The agency last week unveiled a breathtaking image of the Red Planet, stitched together from 817 component images taken by NASA's Opportunity rover over a five-month period.
Wired Science has more:
The solar-powered, golf-cart-sized rover, called Opportunity, wrapped up exploration of the half-mile-wide Victoria Crater in August 2008. It then rolled for the next three years to reach the 14-mile-wide Endeavour Crater.
But the plucky robot must hunker down during Martian winters that last six Earth months, as Opportunity needs to have enough power to warm its fragile electronics. So from Dec. 21, 2011 through May 8, 2012, NASA instructed the robot to stay put and take 817 images.
The space agency stitched those photos together to craft a near-wraparound image of Opportunity’s overwintering spot, a rocky outcrop near the 4-billion-year-old Endeavour Crater that scientists named “Greeley Haven.”
NASA provides this additional image information:
North is at the center of the image. South is at both ends. On the far left at the horizon is "Rich Morris Hill."
Bright wind-blown deposits on the left are banked up against the Greeley Haven outcrop. Opportunity's tracks can be seen extending from the south, with a turn-in-place and other maneuvers evident from activities to position the rover at Greeley Haven. The tracks in some locations have exposed darker underlying soils by disturbing a thin, bright dust cover.
Other bright, dusty deposits can be seen to the north, northeast, and east of Greeley Haven. The deposit at the center of the image, due north from the rover's winter location, is a dusty patch called "North Pole." Opportunity drove to it and investigated it in May 2012 as an example of wind-blown Martian dust.
The interior of Endeavour Crater can been seen just below the horizon in the right half of the scene, to the northeast and east of Cape York. The crater spans 14 miles (22 kilometers) in diameter.
According to NASA, the image is presented in "false color to emphasize differences between materials in the scene."
You can download larger versions of the image here.