NASA has just released an extremely high-resolution panorama of the Martian landscape in the Gale Crater region. This huge photograph comes in at an astonishing 1.8 billion pixels or 1,800 megapixels! Curiosity’s team programmed an automated process to capture over 1,000 separate images from November 24 to December 1, 2019, while the crew was away for the American Thanksgiving holiday.
“While many on our team were at home enjoying turkey, Curiosity produced this feast for the eyes,” said Ashwin Vasavada, Curiosity’s project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which leads the Curiosity program, as well as many other remote missions. “This is the first time we’ve dedicated our operations to a stereo 360-degree panorama.”
Among Curiosity’s 17 different cameras, are two “Mastcams” that capture the stunning images that the rover is known for. Mastcam-100 utilizes a lens with a 100mm lens, while the Mastcam-34 features a 34mm focal length lens. The Mastcam-100 captures this giant panorama while Mastcam-34 simultaneously recorded a wider angle, lower-resolution version of the panorama.
The rover required more than 6 ½ hours over 4 days to capture all the individual shots. The shooting was confined to a two-hour window between 12 pm and 2 pm local Mars time, in order to ensure consistent lighting across the entire 360-degree panorama field. Once all that data made it back to JPL, Curiosity’s team spent months carefully assembling the 1,000+ images for each panorama.
Curiosity launched from Cape Canaveral in November 2011, and landed in Gale Crater in August 2012, after a 560-million-kilometer journey to the red planet. The mission was planned to last only 2 years, NASA extended the mission indefinitely a mere 4 months later, due to the incredible success of the mission. Curiosity has been roaming Mars for almost 8 years now, providing us with priceless data and new insights, plus the spectacular views! The rover’s main objectives include determining whether Mars could have ever supported life, and studying the climate and geology of the planet to help prepare for human missions to the red planet.
Click here to read more about the Curiosity rover at the NASA Mars Exploration Program website.