Mars rover's vivid dune panorama looks like a video game

The latest images from NASA's Curiosity rover show a dramatic 360-degree view of the first extraterrestrial sand dunes ever explored.

You'd be forgiven for thinking the image below was a screenshot from one of the bleak, barren landscapes in the Fallout video game series. It wasn't, however, created by a game designer. It was snapped by NASA's Curiosity rover, which has been exploring the surface of Mars since August 5, 2012.

The image, released by NASA on Monday, shows Namib, one of the Bagnold Dunes located along the northwestern flank of Mount Sharp. You can see it on the left of the image, which shows a full 360-degree view of the area. You're looking here at the back of the dune, the side that's sheltered from the Martian wind.

Because the wind dies down on this side of Namib, sand can drop out of the air, accumulate on the dune and eventually ripple down its face. In this way, the dune can literally creep across the surface of Mars. In fact, NASA says the dunes in this area move about 1 yard (or meter) every year.

You have woken up inside a rover on Mars in a field of dunes. What do you do next?

NASA/JPL-Caltech

Adding to the video-game-like quality of the image is the fact that NASA monkeyed with the color a little. "A color adjustment has been made approximating a white balance, so that rocks and sand appear approximately as they would appear under Earth's sunlit sky," the agency said in a statement. "A brightness adjustment accommodates including rover hardware in the scene."

The images that were stitched together to create this panorama were taken by Curiosity's mastcam on December 18. For those who saw "The Martian," that translates into the 1,197th sol of the rover's exploration of the Red Planet. (For those who didn't see the film, a sol equals a Martian day; it measures 24 hours, 39 minutes and 35.244 seconds, according to NASA.)

To orient you in the image, which is basically a flattened circle, the east appears in the center, while the west is found on both edges of the panorama.

After exploring the Bagnold Dunes, Curiosity will continue its work by returning to Mount Sharp and climbing even higher than it has before.

You can find a zoomable version of the panorama on NASA's website here.

This annotated black-and-white image of the Namib dune was also released Monday.

NASA/JPL-Caltech
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