NASA calls this newly released photo of Mars "the next best thing to being there"S

Once in a great while, NASA's Opportunity rover will catch a glimpse of itself in a photograph of the Martian surface, but the photo featured up top — just released by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory — offers an even rarer view of the Martian landscape, one that the Agency calls "the next best thing to being there."

What you see here is a small portion of a vast panorama — a composite image that combines a total of 817 photographs, taken between Dec. 21, 2011 and May 8, 2012, that features the rover and its surroundings during the most recent Martian winter. Taken together, they provide us with one of the most detailed views of Mars' ancient Endeavour Crater ever recorded. Click here for the full image in very, very high-resolution.

According to NASA:

This scene recorded from the mast-mounted color camera includes the rover's own solar arrays and deck in the foreground, providing a sense of sitting on top of the rover and taking in the view. Its release this week coincides with two milestones: Opportunity completing its 3,000th Martian day on July 2, and NASA continuing past 15 years of robotic presence at Mars. Mars Pathfinder landed July 4, 1997. NASA's Mars Global Surveyor orbiter reached the planet while Pathfinder was still active, and Global Surveyor overlapped the active missions of the Mars Odyssey orbiter and Opportunity, both still in service.

NASA calls this newly released photo of Mars "the next best thing to being there"S

Did you catch that? Opportunity has been on Mars for over 3,000 days — not bad at all for a little rover whose original mission called for a mere 90 days of exploration. [NASA | JPL]