Scientists at NASA yesterday received color images sent back from Mars by the Curiosity, the space rover currently exploring the planet's surface.
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The images are in the form of low-resolution thumbnails put together to reveal a panorama of Gale Crater, the landform on Mars selected for exploration by the rover. Higher resolution images are in store, NASA says.
Scientists are confident that the rover, which landed August 6 and has been transmitting black-and-white images, is in good condition.
"The latest Navcam images show us that the rocket engines on our descent stage kicked up some material from the surface of Mars, several pieces which ended up on our rover's deck," Mike Watkins, Curiosity's mission manager, said in a statement. "These small pebbles we currently see are up to about 1 centimeter in size and should pose no problem for mission operations. It will be interesting to see how long our hitchhikers stick around."
While the rover was still approaching Mars's surface, the scientists began mapping out a geographical portion of 150 miles within Gale Crater. The science team intends to have Curiosity explore Mount Sharp, aka Aeolis Mons, which is a mountain within the crater visible on the horizon in many of the images sent back.
"It is important to understand the geological context around Curiosity," team member Dawn Sumner said in a statement. "We want to choose a route to Mount Sharp that makes good progress toward the destination while allowing important science observations along the way."
The Curiosity will be gathering soil and rock samples from the planet's surface, and was built to be larger and heavier than the Spirit or Opportunity - the previous rovers on Mars - in order to be able to carry the samples. It is roughly the size of a car.