Just seven weeks shy of its one-year anniversary since making landfall on the rust-hued surface of the Red Planet, NASA’s $2.5 billion Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity continues to astonish and astound with its myriad capabilities. The six-wheeled mobile laboratory—which descended into the yawning bowl of 96-mile-wide Gale Crater last August, via a revolutionary “Sky Crane”—has undertaken two major rock drilling and sampling tasks and has uncovered further persuasive evidence that Mars once possessed a favorable environment for microbial life. It would be an understatement to say that the one-ton robotic explorer has opened the public’s eyes to the Red Planet as never before … but if any more proof were needed, a new billion-pixel view of Mars’ dusty surface has the potential to blow a fair few socks off.
The image, which was stitched together from 850 Curiosity exposures, reveals details of the dramatic landscape of Gale Crater, as the rover threads its way toward the 18,000-foot peak of towering Aeolis Mons (“Mount Sharp”). It records a full circle from the “Rocknest” site, where Curiosity gathered its first scoops of Martian soil last September, to Mount Sharp on the distant horizon. “It gives a sense of place and really shows off the cameras’ capabilities,” said Bob Deen of the Multi-Mission Image Processing Laboratory at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “You can see the context and also zoom in to see very fine details.”
The camera primarily involved in the work was Curiosity’s Mast Camera, or “MastCam,” which was built by Malin Space Science Systems of San Diego, Calif. A further 21 frames were acquired from its wider-angle camera and 25 black-and-white frames from the Navigation Camera. All images were acquired between 5 October and 16 November 2012. The billion-pixel mosaic shows illumination effects from variations in the time of day, as well as differences in the clarity of the Martian atmosphere, due to changing levels of particulate dust.
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