A new photo shows just how improbable the Mars rover Opportunity's January 2004 hole-in-one landing really was.
The image — which was taken on April 8 of this year by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) — shows Opportunity's landing platform resting inside Eagle Crater. Opportunity came to rest inside the 70-foot-wide (22 meters) crater after a series of airbag-cushioned bounces and rolls during its Red Planet touchdown on the night of Jan. 24, 2004.
Mission planners were not aiming for the crater; their goal was to get Opportunity down within a "landing ellipse" that measured about 37 miles long by 2.4 miles wide (60 by 4 kilometers). Eagle was within that ellipse, and the rover just happened to wind up there. [13 Years On Mars! NASA Opportunity Rover Still Rolling (Video)]
"The smattering of small craters on a broad plain is a reminder of the amazement expressed in 2004 about Opportunity achieving a 'hole-in-one' landing," NASA officials wrote in an image description Friday (April 21).
"When the lander's petals opened and Opportunity sent home its first look at its surroundings, it provided the first-ever close-by view of sedimentary rocks on Mars, in Eagle's rim," they added.