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NASA releases largest ever 1.8 billion pixel picture of Mars

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
March 09, 2020

NASA has released the largest picture ever of Martian landscape in a stunning 1.8 billion pixel image that took months to photograph and assemble.

The panoramic image of Martian landscape was composed of more than 1,000 images taken by the Curiosity rover during the 2019 Thanksgiving holiday, between Nov. 24 and Dec. 1, and carefully assembled over the following months, according to the report from NASA’s California Institute of Technology released Wednesday.

Mars. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Released)

“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 rover mission. “This is the first time during the mission we’ve dedicated our operations to a stereo 360-degree panorama.”

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The stunning image can also be seen in a detailed, interactive video on YouTube.

Using the Mast Camera, also called the Mastcam, Curiosity was able to produce the panorama using its telephoto lens while it relied on its medium-angle lens to produce a lower resolution, nearly 650 million pixel panorama that shows the rover’s deck and robotic arm.

Both panoramas reveal a region on the side of Mount Sharp that Curiosity is exploring called, “Glen Torridon.” While the team was out for the Thanksgiving holiday, the $2.5 billion rover had a rare chance to take the pictures of its surroundings while it was sitting still waiting for its next command.

It took six and a half hours over the course of the four days for the 1,982 pound-rover to capture the individual pictures. Mastcam operators programmed a task list for the rover to complete, including pointing Curiosity’s mast and making sure the images were in focus. In order to keep the lighting consistent, they confined the imaging between noon and 2 p.m. local Mars time each day.

The high-resolution panoramic picture is not the first Curiosity has taken since it landed on Mars in 2012. The car-sized rover shot a 1.3 billion pixel panorama in 2013 using both Mastcam operators.

Curiosity was launch from Cape Canaveral on November 26, 2011, and landed on a region of Mars known as Aeolis Palus on August 6, 2012. It got the name “Curiosity” from a nation-wide student contest that attracted more than 9,000 proposals.

While the nuclear-powered rover was only scheduled for a two-year mission, its mission was extended indefinitely in December 2012 to continue to investigate the region’s past potential to host microbial life.

Since landing on Mars, Curiosity has traveled 13.26 miles and has captured over 650,000 raw images. Curiosity was built by many different organizations. Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego built and operates its Mastcam while JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, built the Navigation Cameras and the rover.