A look at Curiosity's first year on Mars (pictures)

NASA's most advanced rover yet has now been poking around on Mars for a full year, and finding all kinds of clues to the Red Planet's past.

Eric Mack
1 of 19 NASA/JPL-Caltech

This Curiosity has yet to harm a single cat

Curiosity stands at the ready prior to its journey. After launching in late 2011 and traveling more than eight months to reach Mars, the rover touched down in Gale Crater on August 6, 2012, (late August 5 in much of North America). In its first year on the Red Planet, Curiosity has sent back more than 190 gigabits of data to Earth, as well as tens of thousands of photos. In this gallery we'll revisit some of the best shots from (and of) our most advanced rover/mobile science lab on Mars.
2 of 19 NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

Skydiving, Martian style

From 211 miles overhead, NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter witnesses Curiosity's descent to Gale Crater, as a rig carrying the rover drifts down beneath a 70-foot-wide parachute. After the supersonic braking parachute slowed down the rig, a slowly descending "sky crane" lowered Curiosity the rest of the way to the surface.
3 of 19 NASA

Curiosity's first photo

History can't always be glamorous. This rather drab image of Curiosity's own shadow is the first photo the rover snapped from the surface of Mars. The camera's clear dust cover -- complete with dust around the edges -- is still on, and one of the rover's wheels can be seen in the lower right corner. Still, after the risky sky-crane landing, the image showed that Curiosity had arrived on the surface of Mars, and that its systems seemed to be in order.
4 of 19 NASA

Martian road trip

Curiosity makes tracks in the Martian landscape, but at its own leisurely pace. Its daily jaunts are measured in feet or meters rather than miles.
5 of 19 NASA/JPL-Caltech

Little rover, big mountain

A view of the lower levels of Mount Sharp, a Martian mountain taller than California's Mt. Whitney. Part of Curiosity's mission is to trek to the base of the peak to study the area.

Curiosity fires up its lasers

Early in its time on Mars, Curiosity zapped its first Martian rock with its Chemistry and Camera, or ChemCam, system. Throughout its mission, the rover will be firing invisible laser shots at rocks and soil to help analyze them. The circular insert here highlights the rock before the laser test. The square inset is further magnified and processed to show the difference between images taken before and after the laser interrogation of the rock.
7 of 19 NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Two scoops

By December, Curiosity had analyzed its first soil samples on Mars. Here, two scoop marks from one of the rover's prospecting efforts can be seen. NASA says it found a complex chemistry within the Martian soil. Water and sulfur and chlorine-containing substances, among other ingredients, showed up in samples that Curiosity's arm delivered to the SAM lab inside the rover.
8 of 19 NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

SAM, it is

Curiosity deposits bits of soil, sand, or dust into its Surface Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument to examine the chemistry of whatever it ingests. SAM is shown here with covers over its funnels. Its first sample, a pinch of fine sand and dust, was taken in on November 9, 2012.
9 of 19 NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity the maid

Brush away all the dusty rouge that covers Mars, and you get this more pale rock. This shot shows the results of Curiosity's first use of its brush to push away surface dirt. Clearly the rover is a wonderful guest; it even does the dusting for its host.
10 of 19 NASA

Curiosity discovers... oh, nevermind.

In November of 2012, there was lots of general hubbub and hints that Curiosity's Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument had made an epic discovery in a soil sample. Shortly thereafter, it turned out to be a false alarm, but hey, we've still got a really cool robotic shovel scoop and science lab on Mars, so no frowns!
11 of 19 NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Drill baby, drill

Curiosity is also equipped with plenty of power tools, even though you could argue that the rover itself is basically the most awesome power tool ever. Here, it shows off the first sample of powdered rock extracted from the surface by its drill. Curiosity's onboard lab has been doing chemical analysis on samples like this.

Scientists liken the ability to drill to opening a time capsule and examining the makeup of Martian rock that hasn't been subjected to the elements recently, perhaps for billions of years.

12 of 19 NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

Curiosity's neighborhood from above

This color-enhanced image was captured in June from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and shows Curiosity gleaming back from the surface as a bluish dot near the lower right. The rover's tracks are also visible in the left half of the scene. Two bright, relatively blue spots surrounded by darker patches mark its landing site.
13 of 19 NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

Blowin' in the wind

This GIF shows that while Mars has lost much of its atmosphere, there's still enough going on to kick up a little dust (as well as the parachute that helped Curiosity arrive on the Red Planet). This series of seven images taken from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter during Curiosity's first six months on the planet show how the 'chute has changed its shape in the wind.
14 of 19 NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems

Martian hood ornament?

This Curiosity-snapped photo of what looks like a shiny, metallic protuberance of rock set off speculation around the Internet that the rover had found a strange Martian lizard, or an entrance to a secret underground lair. More likely explanations are that the object originated from a meteorite, or that odd lighting accounts for the anomaly.
15 of 19 NASA

An ancient Martian streambed

It doesn't look like much, but Curiosity spent some time checking out this outcropping of cemented gravels, which looks to NASA like evidence of an ancient Martian streambed.
16 of 19 NASA/JPL-Caltech

Looking (Mount) Sharp

This white-balanced panoramic view of Mount Sharp shows the 3-mile tall mound in all its distant glory. The image was actually created from a mosaic of dozens of images taken by Curiosity last fall.
17 of 19 NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems

The southwestern view on Mars

Seven images taken on July 24 from Curiosity's telephoto-lens camera on the right side of the its Mast Camera (Mastcam) were cobbled together in this panorama. In its first year, Curiosity has driven about a mile and sent more than 70,000 images back to Earth.
18 of 19 NASA

Taking the long (and wide) view

This image looks almost like something from a video game, or from a lucid dream I had once. It's actually a billion-pixel view. The full panorama was pieced together from more than 900 images taken by Curiosity last fall, from a location dubbed the "rocknest."
19 of 19 NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

A stitched-together selfie

Curiosity takes a selfie on February 3 at a drilling site near the area dubbed "Yellowknife Bay," where the rover's onboard analysis tools have found evidence of water-bearing minerals in rocks.

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