Mars images taken by Curiosity rover during descent
Images of the surface of Mars taken by the Curiosity rover as it made its historic descent yesterday have now been released.
NASA has provided almost 300 thumbnails from a sequence of pictures that will eventually be run together as a color hi-def movie.
Visible in the timelapse is the heatshield discarded by the vehicle as it neared the ground.
It was the crane that finally settled the robot on to the surface.
A signal confirming the Curiosity rover had landed on Mars was received here at mission control at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at 05:32 GMT (22:32 PDT Sunday).
Curiosity – also known as the Mars Science laboratory (MSL) – put down in a deep equatorial depression known as Gale Crater.
Pictures from the Mars Descent Imager (Mardi), even in their thumbnail form, have now allowed engineers to work out Curiosity’s precise position on the planet – a latitude of -4.5895 and a longitude of 137.4417.
The full set of high-resolution pictures from Mardi will take some weeks to downlink.
The mission team has also got its best view yet of Mount Sharp, the 5.5 km-high peak sitting in the middle of Gale.
This comes from a hazard avoidance camera mounted on the lower-front of the vehicle.
Ordinarily, hazcam pictures are very wide-angle in view and therefore distorted, but image processing software has been used to correct the geometry.
The mountain is the ultimate destination for this $2.5 billion mission.
Satellite data has indicated that sediments at the base of Mount Sharp were laid down in the presence of abundant water.
Curiosity, with its sophisticated suite of 10 instruments, will study those rocks to try to determine if ancient environments on Mars were ever favorable for life.
Released earlier on Monday was a spectacular shot acquired not by the rover but of the rover. This came from one of the US space agency’s satellites at the Red Planet – the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
MRO played a key role in Monday’s landing by recording telemetry from the robot as it approached the ground.
But NASA also tasked it with trying to get a picture of the new arrival. The rover is seen when still inside its protective shell.
Moments after this image was acquired, the vehicle would have dropped out of the capsule to ride its rocket-powered crane to the base of the crater. The resolution in the picture is such that it is even possible to pick out the discarded heatshield.
The mission team is now in its first full day of Martian operations (Sol 1). One of the key activities will be to deploy Curiosity’s high-gain antenna. This unit will allow the vehicle to talk direct to Earth, in addition to relaying data via satellites like MRO.
Another action planned for Sol 1 will be to get a color shot from the Mars Hand Lens Imager (Mahli).
This camera is mounted on the rover’s tool-bearing turret at the end of its robotic arm. The picture, which should be released on Tuesday, will provide the most detailed view of the rover’s surroundings to date.