Nasa's Curiosity rover landed on Mars in 2012 and since then, it has made a number of discoveries – all while conducting a detailed exploration of the Red Planet. The rover is still hard at work on its mission but, for the first time ever, the space agency is giving us an opportunity to see what it 'sees'. And in spectacular detail too!
On Tuesday, 30 January, Nasa shared a stunning panoramic photo showcasing a major portion of the Gale Crater, a 3.8 billion-year-old Martian impact basin and the site where Curiosity began its mission, after which it slowly proceeded to make its way to its current location.
The image, taken on 25 October last year, is a combination of 16 different shots taken by the rover's MastCam imager from a vantage point on Mount Sharp, which is also called Vera Rubin Ridge.
It shows a wide landscape covering everything the Curiosity rover has seen so far, from the northern rim created by the crater's mountains to the sites it crossed – an 18km long route that it has explored over the last six years.
This includes the site where it started its mission, dark dunes, rocky buttes, and Peace Vallis – the ancient channel created by a stream of water that flowed into the crater about 3 billion years ago.
The panorama was captured at the start of the Martian winters when the skies are clear and is so well-detailed that viewers can even see a hill 85km away outside the crater. Also, the element of elevation – 1,073ft above the point of landing – helped Curiosity capture a perfect wide-angle view.
"Even though Curiosity has been steadily climbing for five years, this is the first time we could look back and see the whole mission laid out below us," said Curiosity's project scientist Ashwin Vasavada.
"From our perch on Vera Rubin Ridge, the vast plains of the crater floor stretch out to the spectacular mountain range that forms the northern rim of Gale Crater."
Check out the annotated version of the panorama here.
After this image was taken, Curiosity has moved on even further and sent back some really interesting shots, including one showcasing stick-like figures. The rover has climbed 85ft more and approached the southern edge of the ridge. However, its work is nowhere near done as Nasa plans to reuse its drill soon to acquire more samples of fresh powdered rocks for analysis.