NASA Curiosity rover's wildest images from 5 years on Mars

Since touching down, NASA's Curiosity rover has seen a "fish," braved damaged wheels, eyed dust devils and watched the sun set.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
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Curiosity self-portrait

Depending on where you were on the globe, NASA's Curiosity rover successfully landed on Mars on either Aug. 5 or 6 in 2012. It's spent the past five years crawling across the rugged terrain of the red planet, drilling holes, snapping images and conducting science operations. Here are some of its most fabulous pictures from its time far, far away.

NASA assembled this Curiosity self-portrait from a group of images taken with the rover's Mars Hand Lens Imager in early 2013.

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First day on Mars

NASA's Curiosity rover commemorated its momentous landing on Mars by snapping this image shortly after its safe arrival at the Gale Crater in early August 2012. It shows Mount Sharp in the distance. 

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Sunset on Mars

The sun sinks down below the Mars horizon in April 2015. This sequence is made from four images taken by NASA's Mars Curiosity rover covering a span of just under 7 minutes. NASA notes this is the first sunset Curiosity observed in color. 

4 of 20 NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Red circle by Amanda Kooser/CNET

A 'spoon' on Mars

The Curiosity rover snapped a routine image in May 2016, but alien and UFO fans found something interesting about it: It shows a spoon-like formation half-buried in dust. It's not a real spoon, but it is fun to imagine the presence of soup on Mars. 

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Extra holes in the wheels

The Mars terrain has taken a toll on Curiosity's wheels. This image from early 2016 gives us a good look at the damage. NASA has kept an eye on the wear and tear and implemented some new methods, such as reverse-driving, to minimize further damage.

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Sand on the move

NASA shared a GIF of the sand moving beneath the Curiosity rover in February 2017. The animation covers the span of a day and shows how active the wind is during the Martian summer. 

Bone-shaped rock on Mars
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Not a thigh bone

UFO fans got pretty excited about this Curiosity rover image from 2014 showing a bone-like rock formation on the surface of Mars. NASA, however, stepped in to remind everyone that it really is just a rock and was likely shaped by erosion from wind or water. 

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Quite a dune

Namib Dune reaches up 13 feet (4 meters) above ground level on Mars in this Curiosity image from late 2015. The dark dune looks imposing. It is located in an area known as the Bagnold Dunes at Mount Sharp.  

"Sand grains blowing across the windward side of a dune become sheltered from the wind by the dune itself. The sand falls out of the air and builds up on the lee slope until it becomes steepened and flows in mini-avalanches down the face," says NASA.

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Curiosity's name appears

Curiosity managed to sneak its name into this 2015 shot of a sandstone slab named Windjana. The name is written on a covering for the rover's robotic arm. 

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Drill, baby, drill

Curiosity has left its mark on Mars in some small ways. The rover drilled these two holes in February 2013 to examine soil particles from beneath the surface. This investigation led scientists to conclude that roughly 2 percent of the Martian surface soil is made up of water

Fishy rock
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A wild fish appears

There aren't any fish on Mars, but at least there's a rock that looks like a fish. NASA posted this as a raw image from the Curiosity rover in March 2016 and alien fans got pretty excited about the fishy feature. It's still just a rock.

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Dust devil in action

The wind on Mars can really whip sometimes. NASA's Curiosity rover watched as a dust devil zoomed by in the distance on Feb. 4, 2017, during the red planet's summer season. 

"On Mars as on Earth, dust devils are whirlwinds that result from sunshine warming the ground, prompting convective rising of air that has gained heat from the ground," says NASA.

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Curiosity selfie

NASA's Curiosity rover added to its self-portrait collection in early 2015 with this lovely selfie that really shows off the landscape around it. You can see Mount Sharp, some cliffs and the rim of the Gale Crater.

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Curiosity's wheel tracks

Curiosity snapped this image of its own wheel tracks on Mars in August 2014. The view shows an outcrop area called Hidden Valley, though you won't find any ranch dressing there. NASA says the pale rocks that look like paving stones are about the size of dinner plates.

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Egg Rock

Egg Rock is the name scientists gave to this strange little meteorite Curiosity found on Mars in late 2016. NASA estimates it's no larger than 1.6 inches (40 millimeters) wide, but the rover was able to get a good close-up view of the unusual object.


Lebanon meteorite

Well before Curiosity checked out the tiny meteorite called Egg Rock, it caught sight of this massive iron chunk measuring about 7 feet (2 meters) across in mid-2014. NASA scientists named this meteorite Lebanon.

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Curiosity sees a hill

Mars has some very Earth-like features, such as this small mound named Ireson Hill. It looks like something you might find in a desert region on our planet. The image comes from the Curiosity rover's mast camera in early 2017. 

"The mosaic has been white-balanced so that the colors of the rock and sand materials resemble how they would appear under daytime lighting conditions on Earth," NASA notes.

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Laser-blasted hole

The Curiosity rover carved this hole in a sandstone rock called Windjana in May 2014. It first drilled the hole and then zapped the inside with a laser from its ChemCam instrument. This image gives us a good view into the hole. Look closely to see the line of dark spots created by the laser.

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MRO sees Curiosity

Look closely for the blue spot in the center of this image from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. That's Curiosity. The MRO captured this picture in mid-2017, giving us a fascinating perspective on the rover's place on the planet. 

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Curiosity's travels

NASA shared this map on July 11, 2017, to show the route covered by Curiosity since it landed on Mars in 2012. The map notes some highlights along the way, including areas known as Murray Buttes and Pahrump Hills. 

The star shows where the rover started from its landing spot and the continuation of the yellow line near the bottom maps out its future path for exploration as its mission continues.

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