NASA's selfie-taking Curiosity rover just gave us a view of Mars unlike any other

NASA's selfie-taking Curiosity rover just gave us a view of Mars unlike any other
·3 min read

While millions of people celebrated Thanksgiving with family and friends, the Mars Curiosity rover was hard at work, capturing more than 1,000 images over the extended holiday weekend to give NASA the highest-resolution photo of the planet's surface to date -- and the incredibly detailed image was just released this Wednesday, showing the mountains and valleys surrounding the robotic explorer.

Since arriving on Mars in 2012, Curiosity has been navigating the rocky Martian landscape to explore the planet and conduct experiments to help scientists unveil secrets of the planet's past. It has also taken more than 500,000 images with its suite of cameras, but some of its most recent images have been some of the most breathtaking.

"NASA's Curiosity rover has captured its highest-resolution panorama yet of the Martian surface. Composed of more than 1,000 images taken during the 2019 Thanksgiving holiday and carefully assembled over the ensuing months, the composite contains 1.8 billion pixels of Martian landscape," NASA said.

NASA's Curiosity rover captured its highest-resolution panorama of the Martian surface between Nov. 24 and Dec. 1, 2019. Scroll and zoom in to see even more detail, or click here for a larger version of the image. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

Capturing the panorama was no easy task, requiring painstaking precision for several days between Nov. 24 and Dec. 1, 2019.

"The rover's Mast Camera, or Mastcam, used its telephoto lens to produce the panorama," NASA said.

"It required more than 6 1/2 hours over the four days for Curiosity to capture the individual shots. To ensure consistent lighting, [operators] confined imaging to between noon and 2 p.m. local Mars time each day," NASA explained.

Taking such a detailed photo of its surrounding, Curiosity is able to give NASA scientists a close-up look at features of the Martian surface without the rover having to drive slowly to get a better view.

"This is the first time during the mission we've dedicated our operations to a stereo 360-degree panorama," said Ashwin Vasavada, Curiosity's project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which leads the Curiosity rover mission.

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A second panorama was created in a similar way to show the landscape as well as the rover itself. This image is not quite as detailed as the first, but it is still comprised of 650 million pixels. For comparison, an iPhone 11 takes photos comprised of 12 million pixels.

Along with an almost 1.8-billion-pixel panorama that doesn't feature the rover, NASA's Curiosity captured a 650-million-pixel panorama that features the rover itself. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

Some of Curiosity‘s most famous photos are the selfies that it has sent back to Earth, showing the robot rolling across the rocky Martian surface.

On the rear of the rover is the robot's power source -- a radioisotope power system that generates electricity from the heat of plutonium's radioactive decay. This is different than the process used to create energy in a nuclear power plant on Earth.

This self-portrait of NASA's Curiosity combines dozens of exposures taken by the rover's Mars Hand Lens Imager during the 177th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity's work on Mars (Feb. 3, 2013). (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

Curiosity will gain a robot companion on the Red Planet next year when NASA launches the Perseverance rover. This car-sized robot will be similar to Curiosity, both in size and mission, but will do so on a different corner of Mars that is believed to have been habitable in the planet's past.

Like all of NASA's previous Mars rovers, the name selection process for this new rover was determined by a nationwide student competition. The winning name was submitted by a grade-school student from Virginia.

Perseverance is scheduled to launch this summer and spend approximately seven months flying through space before reaching Mars.

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