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Last Updated: Friday, 2 September 2005, 12:29 GMT 13:29 UK
Rover's image from Mars hill peak
The rover has spent months climbing to the hill summit

The US space agency's robotic rover Spirit has sent back a partial panoramic view from the summit of "Husband Hill" at Gusev Crater on Mars.

Spirit was still sending down data that makes up the colour 360-degree picture when Nasa held a news conference.

The robot reached the hill's summit at the end of August following a 14-month climb, driving in reverse and forward modes to reduce wear on its wheels.

Spirit has been exploring Gusev Crater on the Red Planet since January 2004.

We have taken a beautiful 360-degree panoramic image, which I truly believe will be one of the signature accomplishments of this mission
Steve Squyres, Mars rover team lead scientist
Spirit landed in an area called Gusev Crater, which scientists had supposed to have once held a lake. After investigating the area around its landing site, the rover was dispatched to explore a region known as the Columbia Hills, named in honour of the seven astronauts who died aboard the space shuttle in 2003.

Husband Hill, named after Columbia's commander Rick Husband, is one of the peaks in the range.

"We have taken a beautiful 360-degree panoramic image, which I truly believe will be one of the signature accomplishments of this mission," said Professor Steve Squyres, of Cornell University, lead scientist on the Mars Exploration Rover mission.

View from the top

The picture released on Thursday represents 240 degrees of Spirit's view from the summit.

The scientists will now use the picture to map out targets in the landscape worthy of further investigation.

Lemon rind, Nasa/JPL-Caltech/Cornell
Opportunity is examining strange "rind" on rocks
"What field geologists typically do - and Spirit is a robotic field geologist - is you climb to the top of the nearest hill and take a look around so you get the lay of the land and figure out where you want to go," Professor Squyres told the news conference in Washington.

Mission scientists have been planning to head for terrain to the south after their sojourn at Husband Hill.

They know from images taken in orbit that there is interesting geology there. But they were not detailed enough to plan a route, something the new picture will help the rover team do.

Promised land

One section of rugged terrain to the south of Spirit's position has been described by a team member as "the geologic promised land".

The picture also shows an intriguing circular feature dubbed "Home Plate" and two other peaks in the Columbia Hills range; Ramon Hill and McCool Hill, named after Columbia crew members Ilan Ramon and William McCool. Squyres said Spirit could spend its next Martian winter at McCool Hill, should it be so fortunate still to be working.

Meanwhile, Spirit's "twin" rover Opportunity is continuing to explore the dark red dunes of Meridiani Planum on the other side of the planet.

Opportunity has spent several Martian days, or sols, analysing a feature called "lemon rind", a thin surface layer covering portions of rock poking through the soil north of an impact crater called Erebus.

Nasa said images of the lemon rind appeared slightly different in colour from surrounding rocks. It also appears to be slightly more resistant to wind erosion than the outcrop's interior, the agency added.

See some of the images beamed back from Mars

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