Satisfying your curiosity: The bigger picture
- Published: Jul 1, 2013
- Author: David Bradley
- Channels: Infrared Spectroscopy
Busy with Curiosity
Images recorded by NASA's Curiosity Mars rover and sent back to Earth have been composited into what is the equivalent of a 1000 megapixel photograph of the surface of the Red Planet. The image offers armchair astronomers and others an opportunity to examine the Martian landscape in much greater detail than ever before.
There is huge interest in happenings on our planetary neighbours and of course probes and rovers have analysed surface samples and sent data and images back to Earth. Curiosity is busy carrying out science on Mars and now, NASA has launched a billion-pixel image that anyone can explore in its immense red and dusty detail.
Martian photography comes full circle
This first giant NASA panorama of Mars stitches together almost 900 individual exposures taken by cameras onboard Curiosity and plots details of the landscape along the rover's route across the surface. The technically 1.3-billion-pixel image can be viewed with interactive pan and zoom functionality on the NASA website. There is also a much scaled-down version online that clocks in at a mere 159 megabytes available to users for direct download.
The composite image is more than a panorama it represents a 360-degree, full-circle view of the site around the Curiosity rover when it collected its first scoops of dusty sand at a windblown patch of Mars called "Rocknest". In the distance, users can readily see Mount Sharp on the horizon.
"It gives a sense of place and really shows off the cameras' capabilities," explains Bob Deen of the Multi-Mission Image Processing Laboratory at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in Pasadena, California. "You can see the context and also zoom in to see very fine details."
Pixel upon pixel
Deen compiled the giga-image from hundreds of frames snapped by Curiosity's telephoto mast camera, bolstered that a couple of dozen images from a wider-angle camera and 25 monochrome shots of the rover itself taken by the Navigation Camera. The photos were taken between 5th October and 16th November in 2012. Of course, interested amateurs and professionals alike have had access to the Raw single-frame images taken by Curiosity on NASA's public website for several months and various people have created their own mosaic views.
Interesting features of the new mosaic image reveal time of day variations in lighting conditions as well as changes in the dustiness or clarity of the Martian atmosphere. Of course, the bottom line for much of the scientific research being carried out by Curiosity in the Gale Crater - including photographic and spectroscopic data collection - is that scientists believes this location may once have offered favourable conditions for some kind of microbial life. Curiosity is yet to reveal any definitive evidence pointing to the existence of such like, but many people live in hope.
Curiosity's Mastcam was built and is operated by Malin Space Science Systems, of San Diego, with JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) managing the project overall, JPL built and operates the Navigation Camera and the Curiosity rover itself.
Article by David Bradley
The views represented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of John Wiley and Sons, Ltd.