Thu, August 23, 2012
Technology > Science > U.S. Mars Rover Curiosity Lands

Curiosity beams back 1st 360-degree view of Mars' surface

2012-08-09 02:41:24 GMT2012-08-09 10:41:24(Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

This image released by NASA on Wednesday Aug. 8, 2012 taken by cameras aboard the Curiosity rover shows the Martian horizon. (Photo/NASA)

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 8 (Xinhua) - NASA said Wednesday that Curiosity rover has sent more remarkable images from Mars surface, including the first 360-degree view of Curiosity's new home in Gale Crater.

The remarkable image sets from Curiosity are continuing to develop the story of Curiosity's landing and first days on Mars, according to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, which operates Curiosity.

The images from Curiosity's just-activated navigation cameras, or Navcams, after the mast has been lifted, include the rover's first self-portrait, looking down at its deck from above.

Another Navcam image set, in lower-resolution thumbnails, is the first 360-degree view of Curiosity's new home in Gale Crater is in lower-resolution thumbnails captured by another Navcam, according to JPL.

Also, two higher-resolution Navcams have provided the most detailed depiction to date of Mars surface adjacent to the rover.

"These Navcam images indicate that our powered descent stage did more than give us a great ride, it gave our science team an amazing freebie," said John Grotzinger, project scientist for the mission from the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

"The thrust from the rockets actually dug a one-and-a-half-foot-long (about 0.5-meter) trench in the surface. It appears we can see Martian bedrock on the bottom. Its depth below the surface is valuable data we can use going forward," Grotzinger added.

Another image set, courtesy of the Context Camera, or CTX, aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has pinpointed the final resting spots of the six, 55-pound (25-kilogram) entry ballast masses.

The tungsten masses impacted the Martian surface at a high speed of about 7.5 miles (12 kilometers) from Curiosity's landing location.

Curiosity carries 10 science instruments with a total mass 15 times as large as the science payloads on NASA's Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity.

Some of the tools, such as a laser-firing instrument for checking rocks' elemental composition from a distance, are the first of their kind on Mars, according to JPL.

JPL officials said Wednesday that all basic systems on Curiosity are in good working order, and cameras have begun to send back photos showing a somewhat Earth-like environment.

Jennifer Trosper, JPL project systems manager, said the rover has deployed its seven-foot mast, which holds cameras and science and communications instruments. She said the rover has established full communications with Earth and has more power output than expected.

"The rover works perfectly," she said.

Curiosity project scientist John Grotzinger compared one of the new images sent from Mars to the Mojave Desert at a press briefing Wednesday.

"It' s quite an experience to be looking at a place that feels really comfortable" and familiar, he said. "What' s going to be interesting is finding out all the ways that it' s different."

Scientists know that the crater where Curiosity is situated was covered with water in the past, and the rover itself may well be sitting on the edge of what was once a river delta.

Three-mile high Mount Sharp also sits in the midst of the 100 miles in diameter crater, and will be a major focus of the mission, according to JPL.

High-resolution close-up images released Wednesday also show what appear to be pebbles and gravel over a layer of what scientist believe is bedrock. One set of images also shows a small nearby indentation with exposed rock.

"You can see a harder, rocky surface under gravel and pebbles," Grotzinger said, indicating that the site could become the rover' s first destination.


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