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NASA's Curiosity cameras for photographing Mars

Here's how NASA's Curiosity rover will capture photos of the red planet, with 17 cameras at its disposal.

While the world looked on in awe as the NASA Curiosity rover touched down on Mars yesterday, a whole bunch of fascinating technology was hard at work capturing photos of the red planet.

One of the first images from Curiosity, as captured by the front-left hazard-avoidance camera with a fish-eye lens. The image has been processed to remove the distortion normally associated with such a wide lens. Mount Sharp, one of the rover's main scientific targets, lies ahead in the frame. (Credit: NASA; JPL-Caltech)

The first raw photos have already been beamed down, and are available for viewing on NASA's website.

Nine cameras are attached to the rover. Two black-and-white hazard-avoidance cameras are on the front and back, plus the colour Mars Descent Imager (MARDI).

In total, Curiosity is equipped with 17 cameras. The hazard-avoidance cameras, which are taking photos such as the one above, have a resolution of just 1 megapixel. Once NASA has established that it is safe to deploy the remote sensing mast, more cameras will come into play.

A diagram showing the cameras mounted to the rover. (Credit: NASA; JPL-Caltech)

Curiosity's mast features seven cameras in itself. It will be raised once the rover is on solid ground. These cameras include two colour mast units with 34mm and 100mm lenses, used for panoramas as well as regular stills; four black-and-white hazard-avoidance cameras; and a remote micro imager.

Half of the cameras deployed on the rover are backups, just in case any of the main units fail.

Later on down the track, Curiosity will deploy other cameras, such as the ChemCam (chemistry camera), which will be used for taking images of objects in the distance, and the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), for inspecting rocks and soil in macro photographs.

The first colour photos from the red planet are expected to be released the day after landing — 6 August, or 7 August in Australia.