In what can easily be classified as one of the best images ever captured by Mars Curiosity rover, a sweeping vista of key sites visited since the rover’s 2012 landing, and the towering surroundings have been shown off.
Curiosity’s Mast Camera, or Mastcam, took the component images of the panorama three months ago while the rover paused on the northern edge of Vera Rubin Ridge. The mission has subsequently approached the southern edge of the ridge and examined several outcrop locations along the way.
The image shows us a view of the Martian landscape from the “Vera Rubin Ridge” on the north flank of Mount Sharp encompasses much of the 11-mile (18-kilometer) route the rover has driven from its 2012 landing site, all inside Gale Crater. One hill on the northern horizon is about 50 miles (about 85 kilometers) away, well outside of the crater, though most of the scene’s horizon is the crater’s northern rim, roughly one-third that distance away and 1.2 miles (2 kilometers) above the rover.
Curiosity’s exact landing spot on the floor of the crater lies out of sight behind a slight rise, but the scene includes “Yellowknife Bay.” That’s where, in 2013, the mission found evidence of an ancient freshwater-lake environment that offered all of the basic chemical ingredients for microbial life. Farther north are the channel and fan of Peace Vallis, relics of the streams that carried water and sediment into the crater about three billion years ago.
Sites such as “Kimberley” and “Murray Buttes” along the rover’s route are marked on an annotated posting of the panorama. The Mastcam recorded both a wider version of the scene (from southwest to northeast) with its left-eye, 34-millimeter-lens camera and a more detailed, narrower version with its right-eye, 100-millimeter-lens camera.
The site from which these images were taken sits 1,073 feet (327 meters) in elevation above Curiosity’s landing site. Since leaving that site, the rover has climbed another 85 feet (26 meters) in elevation. In recent days, the Mastcam has recorded component images for a panorama looking uphill southward toward the mission’s next major destination area. That is called the “Clay Unit” because observations from orbit detected clay minerals there.
NASA’s Curiosity team on Earth received copious new images from the rover through a record-setting relay by NASA’s MAVEN orbiter — surpassing a gigabit of data during a single relay session from Mars for the first time in history.
The team is preparing to resume use of Curiosity’s drill for acquiring powdered rock samples to be analyzed by laboratory instruments inside the rover, more than a year after the most recent of the 15 times the drill has pulled sample material from Martian rocks.