Five days after NASA's Curiosity rover successfully landed on Mars, the one-ton robot sent another postcard back to Earth, this one a 360-degree beauty. Curiosity's first panorama, albeit black-and-white, gives Earthlings a great high-quality glimpse at the surface on Mars, specifically within the 96-mile Gale Crater.
In the view, you can see the sweeping landscape of Mars, as well as the base of a three-mile-high mountain, called Mount Sharp by NASA, rising from the crater floor. NASA intends for Curiosity to visit this mountain.
"It's very exciting to think about getting there, but it is quite a ways away," said Dawn Sumner, a mission scientist at the University of California, Davis.
The Curiosity rover has been sending back photos since it landed on Mars last Sunday. Viewers can still watch a video posted by NASA, which offers a chance to "relive the nail-biting terror and joy as NASA's Curiosity rover successfully lands on Mars the evening of Aug. 5."
Since NASA didn't equip the Curiosity's onboard Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) with a video camera, the video was actually a stop-motion composite of 297 thumbnail images. MARDI captured a total of 1,054 images as Curiosity landed on Mars' red soil, but only 297 of them were beamed back to Earth on Monday.
"The image sequence received so far indicates Curiosity had, as expected, a very exciting ride to the surface," said Mike Malin, an imaging scientist at San Diego's Malin Space Systems. "But as dramatic as they are, there is real other-world importance to obtaining them. These images will help the mission scientists interpret the rover's surroundings, the rover drivers in planning for future drives across the surface, as well as assist engineers in their design of forthcoming landing systems for Mars or other worlds."
The photos received by NASA were admittedly low-quality -- the images have a 192 x 144 resolution -- but NASA said that as communications improved between the rover and the agency, NASA would be able to distribute full-size, high-quality 1600 x 1200 photos. Just a few days later, with the first panorama of Mars, Curiosity has accomplished just that.
"The successful landing of Curiosity -- the most sophisticated roving laboratory ever to land on another planet -- marks an unprecedented feat of technology that will stand as a point of national pride far into the future," the president said. "It proves that even the longest of odds are no match for our unique blend of ingenuity and determination. I congratulate and thank all the men and women of NASA who made this remarkable accomplishment a reality - and I eagerly await what Curiosity has yet to discover."
"Curiosity carries 10 science instruments with a total mass 15 times as large as the science payloads on the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity. Some of the tools are the first of their kind on Mars, such as a laser-firing instrument for checking rocks' elemental composition from a distance. Later in the mission, the rover will use a drill and scoop at the end of its robotic arm to gather soil and powdered samples of rock interiors, then sieve and parcel out these samples into analytical laboratory instruments inside the rover."
What do you think of the panorama? Are you looking forward to what Curiosity will discover on Mars? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.