Stunning photos from NASA's new Mars rover reveal 200-foot cliffs, mysterious rocks, and a perfect touchdown

Morgan McFall-Johnsen
·6 min read
perseverance mars rover panorama high definition 360 degrees smaller size
The first 360-degree panorama taken by Mastcam-Z, stitched together on Earth from 142 individual images captured during the Perseverance rover's third day on Mars. NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/ASU

NASA's Perseverance rover hasn't started roaming the red planet just yet, but its cameras have been busy at work.

A suite of ruggedized, off-the-shelf sports cameras captured unprecedented footage of the rover descending to Mars and landing in Jezero Crater on Thursday. Then the rover's science and navigation cameras began snapping away as soon as it was on the ground. The results are breathtaking.

So far, NASA has published more than 4,700 images from the rover, with many more to come.

"It's been a firehose of data," Justin Maki, a Perseverance imaging scientist and the chief of the instrument-operations team, said at a press conference on Monday.

The new photos reveal the sand dunes, rocks, and distant 200-foot-tall cliffs of the ancient lake bed where Perseverance now sits. It's the most hazardous terrain any Mars landing has targeted, but it's already paying off in unprecedented portraits of the red planet.

"I review images for Mars, like, every day. That's what I do. And when I saw these images come down, I have to say, I was truly amazed," Maki said. "I know it's been a tough year for everybody, and we're hoping that maybe these images will help brighten people's day."

After landing Thursday, NASA's Perseverance rover immediately started beaming back thousands of photos of the red planet.

perseverance rover mars landing first color images photo jezero crater
The first high-resolution, color image sent back by the Hazard Cameras on the underside of Perseverance. NASA/JPL-Caltech

These include the first images of a rover landing on Mars. Five cameras captured more than 23,000 images during Perseverance's descent.

perseverance mars rover landing photo
A photo of NASA's Perseverance rover just feet above the Martian surface - part of a video several cameras recorded of the landing on February 18. NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA has also released a three-minute video of the rover's descent and landing.

The cameras started recording as the capsule carrying the rover deployed a 70-foot-wide parachute to slow its fall through the Martian atmosphere.

mars perseverance rover descent landing parachute deploy nasa
A camera mounted to the Perseverance rover's entry capsule captured this image of the parachute deploying. NASA/JPL-Caltech

Hidden in the parachute's pattern is binary computer code spelling out the message "Dare mighty things."

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An image from the new video shows the Perseverance capsule's parachute deploying. NASA/JPL-Caltech

When the bottom panel of the capsule fell away, that exposed a camera on the bottom of the rover, which captured Jezero Crater below.

perseverance mars rover landing capsule heat shield jettison deploy video screengrab
A screengrab from Perseverance's landing video shows the heat shield falling away, exposing a camera on the rover's belly as it descends to Mars. NASA/JPL-Caltech

In this ancient lake bed, Perseverance is set to hunt for signs of ancient alien microbes that could be fossilized, especially along the river delta that once filled the crater with water.

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An image from the Perseverance rover's descent and landing video shows Jezero Crater, with the 200-foot cliffs of its river delta on the right. NASA

Read more about Jezero Crater and its potential for alien life.

The color in all these images had to be corrected. Here's what they looked like before.

mars perseverance rover descent landing jezero crater river delta no color correction
A camera on the bottom of NASA's Mars Perseverance rover acquired this image during descent on February 18. It has not been color-corrected. NASA/JPL-Caltech

During the landing, the capsule dropped the rover, and then a jetpack attached to Perseverance's back fired its engines and flew to the landing site. There, it lowered the rover on 25-foot nylon cables.

perseverance mars rover landing jetpack
A camera on top of Perseverance captured the jetpack lowering the rover to its landing spot. NASA/JPL-Caltech

As it approached, the jetpack's engines kicked up swirling clouds of dust on the Martian surface.

perseverance mars rover landing video screengrab
An image from the rover's descent-camera video showed dust swirling below as the rover was about to touch down. NASA/JPL-Caltech

Then the jetpack released the rover and flew away to crash-land at a safe distance.

perseverance mars rover landing jetpack
After delivering Perseverance to its touchdown, the jetpack released the nylon cable and flew away. NASA/JPL-Caltech

Before the dust settled, the rover was already beaming back its first photos from the Martian surface.

perseverance rover mars landing first images nasa
The first and second images that Perseverance took seconds after landing on Mars on February 18. NASA

The first images revealed some very holey rocks that got NASA scientists excited. The rocks could be volcanic, or water could have tunneled through them.

perseverance mars rover wheel rocks holey rock jezero crater landing
One of Perseverance's color Hazard Cameras captured this image of one of the rover's six aluminum wheels after its landing on February 18. NASA/JPL-Caltech

Over the weekend, NASA engineers instructed Perseverance to deploy its mast. That gave a much better view of both the landscape and the rover.

perseverance rover mars navcam screengrab
An image from a NASA press conference showing a color-approximated version of a Navcam photo of the rover's body. NASA/JPL-Caltech

The rover's Mastcam-Z camera, named for its powerful zoom lens, used a color wheel built into the rover to calibrate itself.

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"We're going to get incredibly high-resolution photos from this imaging system," Maki said.

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NASA's Mars Perseverance rover acquired this image using a Mastcam-Z camera, located high on the rover's mast. NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU

High on its mast, Perseverance's Navcam camera can see everything. It will help the rover drive.

perseverance rover mars navcam photo jezero crater screengrab
An image from a NASA press conference shows a color-approximated version of a Navcam photo, looking south. NASA/JPL-Caltech

To the west of the rover, the Navcam can see the cliffs of the river delta on the horizon. That's where the rover is headed.

perseverance rover mars navcam jezero crater river delta cliffs screengrab
An image from a NASA press conference showing a color-approximated version of a Navcam photo looking west toward the river delta cliffs. NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Perseverance team on Earth stitched six of those images together to create a 360-degree panorama.

perseverance mars rover panorama jezero crater nasa
This panorama, taken February 20 by the Navigation Cameras on the Perseverance Mars rover, was stitched together from six individual images. NASA/JPL-Caltech

Then on Wednesday, NASA released another panorama, this one made of 142 images from the Mastcam-Z that were captured in high definition using its powerful zoom.

perseverance mars rover panorama high definition 360 degrees smaller size
The first 360-degree panorama taken by Mastcam-Z, captured during the Perseverance rover's third day on Mars. NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/ASU

In that high-definition vista, NASA scientists can clearly make out the rim of Jezero Crater.

jezero crater rim perseverance mars rover mastcam z panorama
The rim of Jezero Crater as seen in the first 360-degree panorama taken by the Mastcam-Z instrument aboard NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover. NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/ASU

NASA turned the first panorama into a video that you can drag left and right to see the view from Perseverance's perspective.

This post has been updated with new information. It was originally published on February 23, 2021.

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