This feels a bit like releasing a greatest hits album after one chart-topping single, but we’re going to show you some of our favorite images from the landing and activation of the Curiosity rover on Mars. Although Curiosity is on track to be sending back data for years, its arrival and first few days on the Red Planet have been nothing short of spectacular, with a complicated landing plan going off without a hitch, and data starting to trickle in from over a dozen different cameras.
You can see this in the first picture, which takes advantage of the lander’s downward-facing camera during its plunge through Mars’ thin atmosphere. The camera started capturing data as soon as there was light, which meant the first picture was snapped as the heat shield popped off. As a result, the rover’s first view of its new home came complete with a heat shield plunging ahead of it, having already done the hard work of handling the heat of a high-speed entry into the thin Martian atmosphere.
Currently, Mars is the best monitored planet outside of our own, which means that there is hardware in orbit that can help relay information from Curiosity back to Earth. But it also meant that NASA was able to direct the HIRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter towards the area where Curiosity was scheduled to touch down. It worked spectacularly, capturing this image of the parachute that slowed the hardware down to a manageable speed.
Later, HIRISE would photograph the area where it landed. NASA staff were able to identify most of the parts that were thrown free of the rover during its descent, including the parachute and heat shield, as well as the sky crane that dropped it gently to Mars’ surface.
Curiosity first activated several black-and-white cameras once it was on the ground, which gave us our first glimpse of the surroundings. Although it landed on smooth ground, that site is the floor of a large impact crater that includes a huge central peak. Some of the nearby topography can be seen in this photo, framed by the rover’s hardware and featuring its shadow.
With the rover’s mast successfully raised, we’ve started to get some color images of Curiosity’s new neighborhood, a flat dusty plain in the color that has given Mars its nickname.
NASA sent the mast camera for a 360-degree spin and, with the low-resolution thumbnails having been successfully transmitted to Earth, they’ve been stitched together to form a full 360° panorama of the Gale crater.
The rover’s mission is slated to run at least two years, and estimates are that its radioactive power source could keep it running for at least a decade (and it’ll work straight through the Martian winter). Expect many more mind-boggling photos to come.