Curiosity rover's first photos from Mars (pictures)
The Mars Science Laboratory vehicle has taken its first very big step -- it has landed on the surface of the Red Planet. Like any good tourist, it's sent home some snapshots.
After traveling 352 million miles from the Kennedy Space Center following last November's launch, the Mars Science Laboratory -- in the form of the big Curiosity rover -- is now on Mars. The rover touched down on the Red Planet a little after 10 p.m. PT on Sunday, August 5.
This image is one of the very first sent home from Curiosity, showing the rover's own shadow on the Martian surface. NASA says that the clear dust cover is still on the camera, hence the dust seen around the edge of the fish-eye image. The photo was taken by one of the rover's front hazard-avoidance cameras on the vehicle's front end, at only one-quarter of full-resolution.
Larger color images should come later in the week when Curiosity's mast is deployed. The mast carries high-resolution cameras.
Editors' note: This slideshow was updated several times on August 6 and 7 as new images became available.
History buffs, take note: This is the first image taken by NASA's Curiosity rover after it settled down on the Martian surface as August 5 was giving way to August 6 here on Earth. In this photo, the camera's clear dust cover is still on, and you can make out the dust around its edge. In the lower right corner, one of the rover's wheels is visible.
Here's a sharper version of that image. Taken by a rear hazard-avoidance camera, it shows one of the rover's six wheels (bottom right) and part of its power supply (top left). The top of the image is saturated, NASA says, because at the moment it was taken, the camera were pointed directly toward the sun.
While engineers did not expect pictures right away, blurry low-resolution thumbnails from the rover's rear hazard avoidance cameras were transmitted within minutes of touchdown showing a wheel on the surface of Mars.
"Odyssey data is still strong," said mission control commentator Allen Chen. "Odyssey is nice and high in the sky. At this time we're standing by for images..."
This view from Curiosity's front "hazcam" shows Mount Sharp rising three miles above the floor of Gale Crater to the southeast with the shadow of the rover in the foreground. Curiosity's mission over the next two years is, first, to explore its landing zone and then eventually to drive up the side of Mount Sharp in search of carbon compounds that would provide clues to whether Mars may at some point have been habitable.
Behold Curiosity's first color image of the Martian landscape, looking north from the rover toward the north wall and rim of the Gale Crater that Curiosity now calls home. The picture was taken by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), still protected for the time being by its transparent dust cover -- hence the murky quality of the image, NASA says. The peak to the left side is about 15 miles away and stands about 3,775 feet high.
Photo by: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems / Caption by:
Here, NASA provides some perspective for that cockeyed landscape photo. The black-and-white scenes on either side of the tipped-up center rectangle are computer simulations built from data provided by two orbiting satellites, NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and the European Space Agency's Mars Express.
The mast on the Curiosity rover carries seven cameras: the Remote Micro Imager, part of the Chemistry and Camera suite; four black-and-white Navigation Cameras (two on the left and two on the right), and two color Mast Cameras (Mastcams). The left Mastcam has a 34-millimeter lens and the right Mastcam has a 100-millimeter lens. The rover's robot arm, which is tucked away in this image, carries one camera -- the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI).
Nine other cameras are hard-mounted to the rover: two pairs of black-and-white Hazard Avoidance Cameras in the front, another two pair mounted to the rear of the rover, and the color Mars Descent Imager (MARDI).
During its descent, Curiosity snapped this picture of its 15-foot-diameter heat shield about 3 seconds after its separation from the rover and about 2.5 minutes before landing on Mars. The photo was taken by the rover's Mars Descent Imager instrument, aka MARDI, and is one of the first color images that Curiosity sent back -- in low resolution, to allow for a prompt return of the images to Earth.
The Gale Crater is Curiosity's new stomping ground, and where it will begin its long, slow trek up the side of a 3-mile-tall mountain. The region is filled with large, ancient craters, as you can see on this elevation map.