NASA’s Curiosity Rover Sends a Picture Postcard from Mars

Postcard from Mars

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover used its navigation cameras to capture panoramas of this scene. Blue, orange, and green color was added to a combination of the panoramas for an artistic interpretation of the scene. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

NASA’s Curiosity rover captured a remarkable image from its most recent perch on the side of Mars’ Mount Sharp. The mission team was so inspired by the beauty of the landscape that they combined two versions of the black-and-white images from different times of the day and added colors, creating a rare postcard from the Red Planet.

Curiosity captures a 360° view of its surroundings with its black-and-white navigation cameras each time it completes a drive. To make the resulting panorama easier to send to Earth, the rover keeps it in a compressed, low-quality format. But when the rover team saw the view from Curiosity’s most recent stopping point, the scene was too pretty not to capture it in the highest quality that the navigation cameras are capable of.

Many of the rover’s most stunning panoramas are from the color Mastcam instrument, which has far higher resolution than the navigation cameras. That is why the team added colors of their own to this latest image. The blue, orange, and green tints are not what the human eye would see; instead, they represent the scene as viewed at different times of day.

On November 16, 2021 (the 3299th martian day, or sol, of the mission), engineers commanded Curiosity to take two sets of mosaics, or composite images, capturing the scene at 8:30 a.m. and again at 4:10 p.m. local Mars time. The two times of day provided contrasting lighting conditions that brought out a variety of landscape details. The team then combined the two scenes in an artistic re-creation that includes elements from the morning scene in blue, the afternoon scene in orange, and a combination of both in green.

At the center of the image is the view back down Mount Sharp, the 5-kilometer-tall (3-mile-tall) mountain that Curiosity has been driving up since 2014. Rounded hills can be seen in the distance at center-right; Curiosity got a closer view of these hills in July when the rover started to see intriguing changes in the landscape. A field of sand ripples known as the “Sands of Forvie” stretches 400 to 800 meters (1300 to 2600 feet).

At the far right of the panorama is the craggy “Rafael Navarro Mountain,” named after a Curiosity team scientist who passed away in 2021. Poking up behind it is the upper part of Mount Sharp, far above the area Curiosity is exploring. Mount Sharp lies inside Gale Crater, a 154-kilometer-wide (96-mile-wide) basin formed by an ancient impact. Gale Crater’s distant rim stands 2.3 kilometers (1.4 miles) tall and is visible on the horizon about 30 to 40 kilometers (18 to 25 miles) away.

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