Curiosity Sends Back Color Panoramic Photo
August 10, 2012

A Panoramic Look At Mars From The Curiosity Rover

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

NASA is releasing even more photographs taken by the Curiosity rover during its first week of service on the Red Planet.

The rover landed on Mars on Sunday night and NASA has been testing the rover out to see if all of its functions work properly.

In one of the latest images released by the space agency, you get a full 360-degree view of what Curiosity gets to see on the alien planet in Gale Crater.

The panoramic image is in color, and was made using Curiosity's thumbnail versions of images taken by its Mast Camera.

NASA said scientists will be looking at several splotches seen in the foreground that appear gray, to try and determine exactly what those are.  These areas could be the effects of the descent stage's engines blasting the ground.

It said what appears as a dark strip in previous pictures can also be seen along the top of this panoramic image.  The color reveals some additional shades of reddish brown around the dunes as well, likely indicating different textures or materials, according to NASA.

The panoramic image was made with 130 different 144 by 144 pixel images. NASA said full frames of these images at 1,200 by 1,200 pixels each are expected to reach Earth at a later time.

Also seen in images received from Curiosity is a higher-resolution image of Mount Sharp, the rover's ultimate destination for its primary mission.

In the panoramic view, the mountain's summit cannot be seen, but the mountain, which is located in the center of Gale Crater, does show up on the horizon of the image.

Curiosity's Navcams have also been working hard to provide images for NASA, giving a 360-degree view of Mars and a couple of higher-resolution photos.

"These Navcam images indicate that our powered descent stage did more than give us a great ride, it gave our science team an amazing freebie," John Grotzinger, project scientist for the mission from the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, said in a press release. "The thrust from the rockets actually dug a one-and-a-half-foot-long [0.5-meter] trench in the surface. It appears we can see Martian bedrock on the bottom. Its depth below the surface is valuable data we can use going forward."

The new rover carries 10 science instruments, including tools such as a laser-firing instrument for checking rocks' elemental composition from a distance.

Curiosity will use a drill and scoop to gather up soil and powdered samples of rock interiors, then sieve and parcel out these samples into its analytical laboratory instruments.