NASA’s Curiosity rover has just sent back its first panoramic, color image of Mars’ Gale Crater.
It’s been on the surface of Mars for less than a week, but already the Curiosity rover is hard at work exploring the surface of Mars. The first part of that exploration, of course, is taking photos to send back to Earth so that the Mars rover team can study the surface. That may not sound like much, but consider this – the camera itself has spent nearly nine months in the cold and vacuum of space. By contrast, most of us get worried about getting our cameras wet even if it’s only sprinkling a little.
“After a year in cold storage, where it endured the rigors of launch, the deep space cruise to Mars and everything that went on during landing, it is great to see our camera is working as planned,” said Mike Malin, principal investigator of the Mastcam instrument in a NASA press release. “As engaging as this color panorama is, it is important to note this is only one-eighth the potential resolution of images from this camera.”
The image above is the first panoramic image that Curiosity has sent back to Earth. It’s composed of 130 separate images, each only 144 by 144 pixels each. Larger images, which will be 1200 x 1200 pixels, will be the next step. The purpose of these photos isn’t just to take pictures – it will also help the Curiosity team figure out the best path for the rover to take in order to complete its mission.
“It is important to understand the geological context around Curiosity,” said Dawn Sumner, a member of the Curiosity science team in the release. “We want to choose a route to Mount Sharp that makes good progress toward the destination while allowing important science observations along the way.”
In addition, the initial photos will also help scientists figure out how the landing itself impacted the Martian surface. For example, the gray splotches you see in the photo appear to be the effects of the rockets that assisted in getting Curiosity to the ground. This type of information is useful for engineering future Mars missions.
You can check out more images of Mars from Curiosity here.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS