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NASA video reveals Mars rover landing

It's just a short clip, but the stop-motion video from a camera on Curiosity's belly still gives a sense of what it's like to parachute down to Mars.

Curiosity heat shield
During its descent, Curiosity snapped this picture of its heat shield about 3 seconds after its separation and about 2.5 minutes before landing on Mars. The photo was taken by the MARDI instrument, 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. NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA is offering a first video glimpse of the Curiosity rover's arrival on Mars.

The space agency last night released a modest stop-motion video built from 297 still-image frames captured by Curiosity's Mars Descent Imager, aka MARDI, which is mounted on the underside of the rover. The landing sequence, which finishes quickly in only about 40 seconds, provides a record of the last two-and-a-half minutes of the spacecraft's descent.

In the first few seconds, you can see the heat shield, 15 feet in diameter, falling away after separation from the 1-ton rover, which itself was slung below a 70-foot-wide parachute for its final approach to the Red Planet. Then comes a long stretch of shifting shades of tan and rusty brown terrain coming closer and closer, before a rush of grays and off-whites. At the end, the top left corner of the video frame shows a shadowy intrusion -- a glimpse, perhaps, of one of Curiosity's six wheels.

It may not get nominated as an animated short for the 2012 Academy Awards, but it is a nifty little look at the big rover's success in NASA's bold and unprecedented landing maneuver.

The space agency, meanwhile, continues to release new still images from Curiosity on the surface.