Mars rover: Wide and in the open

Self-portrait Rover and key target - Mount Sharp: In many ways, it's an image that defines the Curiosity mission

One of the welcome features of several recent space missions has been the decision to post pictures online almost as soon as they come down to Earth.

If you dig around the mission websites, you can find their "raw images" sections.

These indexes can be a little confusing to the uninitiated because the pictures rarely come with clear caption material, and you're not always sure what you are looking at. But I promise you, it can be a rewarding time browsing the unfiltered vistas from far-flung worlds. You'll often see things that only get mentioned by the big news organisations days later when they're given one carefully selected shot to publish.

And in the case of the Mars rover missions, these raw collections also allow anyone with the right software to start to build their own panoramas of the Red Planet.

I wanted to draw your attention to the work of Ken Kremer, a freelance science writer whose work can often be found at Universe Today, but at many other publications as well. Ken, with colleague Marco Di Lorenzo, has built a number of panoramas of Gale Crater that give us a wider perspective on the Curiosity vehicle's Martian home - literally.

The image at the top of this page was built from pictures acquired by the rover on the 85th Martian day of its mission (the middle of last week).

The self-portrait was stitched together from images captured by the "hand lens" on the end of the vehicle's robotic arm.

The large rise in the background is the big mountain in the centre of Gale Crater known as Mount Sharp. It is at the base of this peak that the rover expects to find some of the most interesting rocks during its mission, although it will be many months before it gets there.

It's a great panorama because it reminds me of those holiday pictures we've all taken with the landmark over the shoulder. "Wish you were here!"

Glenelg Glenelg has become a familiar name in recent weeks. It will be the site of the first drilling action

One of my favourite panoramas from Ken is the one he's put together of Glenelg.

If you've been following the Curiosity mission you'll know this location was selected as the first prime science destination - it's where satellite imagery has indicated there is a junction of three distinct rock terrains.

Curiosity will trundle around this patch of ground looking for a candidate rock in which to drill. That activity should take place in the next few weeks.

You can follow Ken Kremer's work at his website. His pictures will also be featured in the PBS NOVA documentary on Curiosity called Ultimate Mars Challenge, which airs in the US next week on Wednesday (21:00 ET/PT).

And let me recommend, too, the Opportunity Mars rover's raw section, and that of the Cassini Saturn orbiter. The Cassini site has a useful FAQ that explains some of the oddities of wading through such collections.

And if you want to see what others are up to in terms of "citizen image processing", drop by the online forum Lots of mosaics are being shared there.

Rocknest This mosaic captures the action of the rover's robotic arm as it moves to scoop the Martian soil
Rear view
Jonathan Amos Article written by Jonathan Amos Jonathan Amos Science correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    31. waofy

    Neither Titan or Mars are as exciting as Europa. Forget about the question "Was there once life on Mars?", there could be alien fish swimming around on Europa right now!

    "All these worlds are yours, except Europa- attempt no landings there !"

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    Fascinating is an understatement. This is the second biggest leap for mankind and perhaps a stepping stone to seeing if are not alone.

    I have to agree that Europa holds the most fascination. We'll have to wait and see.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    31 waofy - There could well be liquid water under Europa's surface, although we've only just begun to explore subglacial lakes here on Earth, so exploration of Europa is a while away. Shame the proposed lander didn't get the funding though.
    Saturn's moon Enceladus is another interesting one and it's almost certain to have liquid water, as water ice volcanoes have been discovered.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    11.Drunken Hobo - Neither Titan or Mars are as exciting as Europa. Forget about the question "Was there once life on Mars?", there could be alien fish swimming around on Europa right now!

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    The Images and Discoveries that are coming back from Curiosity is just AMAZING! It just goes to show how mankind can achieve these goals and control a probe from another planet! I think more probes and more funding should go towards space projects. I also think maybe taking a human like robot on mars would also be a good thing, and let that robot 'walk' on mars

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    The Mars Mission is doing great love looking at the images that is sent back to Earth. but we need to dig deeper then just the suface. and perhaps we could i time conolise it with a mix of sci- and civilan not just the Rich and weathly but anyone with the ambision and passion of exploration of Mars

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    26 Robert Lucien - Laser propulsion could be a good option for the future. Has a huge benefit of not needing to carry the power source or fuel with you, reducing the mass by a colossal amount. Might be a bit ambitious tuning them to work over millions of miles, but we can already reach the Moon and would be easier in an airless environment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    23 Entropic man - Think asteroid mining is a while away yet. I imagine if we begin to use nuclear rockets, the cores will be sent up in pieces and assembled in space to avoid any criticality accident.

    Shame Phobos-Grunt failed, would have been both "asteroid mining" and a sample return from (near) Mars.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    #22 Drunken Hobo
    NERVA's design still exists and from what I know NASA are planning to start a new series of experiments over the next five or so years. The real problem though is that all thermal rockets are limited in efficiency by the heat and extreme hypersonic environments in their exhaust streams. What is needed is a totally new technology - maybe based on magnetic confinement or railguns.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    Well, the only thing we need now is to perfect space technology that will take man to distant planets. Sending probes has really helped us to understand a lot of things about other worlds.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Mmm more pictures of a boring desert just like all the others.not sure this helps anyone but the space geeks,does it really matter what the place is like ?.we went to the moon and have not been back since ,a great achievement and some spin off benefits but in the end what did it do ?its like mountain climbing, but a lot more expensive,interesting to do but essentially pointless.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    22.Drunken Hobo
    " A nuclear reactor being launched at hypersonic speeds through the atmosphere? "
    Tis is where Planetary Resources Inc. comes in. Build your nuclear propulsion system on Earth and launch it conventionally, unfuelled. Use radioactive material mined from asteroids to fuel it in orbit and and send it it on its efficient way with out risk of nuclear pollution to our planet.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    19 Robert Lucien - For some reason people never seemed too keen on nuclear thermal rockets. A nuclear reactor being launched at hypersonic speeds through the atmosphere? I'm sure it'd be fine.
    A shame a lot of these great innovations were cancelled though, imagine what we could do with NERVA & air breathing rockets, had they never stopped being developed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    By humans being sent there, thats purely to test human ability to adapt & endure hostile worlds & which are unreachable by normal means. Testing the human condition is worth it, in my opinion. Alas, as for science of life, in terms of finding even the most modest life there, then Mars is not worth the robotic spend anymore. Machines should be sent further afield & where people certainly can't go.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    How misunderstood . . .

    I didnt explicitly say we should send humans to Mars but in terms of machines, I think we should stop sending machines and instead send them to more exotic places where atmospheres are far more rich and varied. My earlier posting didnt preclude a belief that people should go to Mars, where in actual fact, I believe they should go - ASAP.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    #13 Archimedes Screwed
    "Aim to go further, with better propulsion, "

    There is the nub of the problem, better propulsion is actually very difficult to achieve. Have worked on an assessment of many methods and at the end of the day almost none of them are anywhere near ready. - The only ones near- are nuclear fission, micro nuclear bomb pulse propulsion, or giant scale chemical staging.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    These panoramas are stunning. Thanks NASA for making the pictures available to everyone, a great use of the internet. "Mile upon mile of desert which could be anywhere on similar Earth terrain"? Mars was once similar to Earth with oceans, rivers, and almost certainly life. There is nowhere else in the Solar System more interesting. Humans should go, we are much better than machines at exploring

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    @ Archimedes Screwed

    I'm "curious" as to where else you would propose to spend our time looking for life? Mars is the most viable alternate to earth for life to exist, so important testing by Curiosity which includes the testing for microbial life is essential. Curiosity is also carrying out tests for future human exploration, including the habitability of the planet, for future missions perhaps.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Archimedes Screwed - I'm confused, in one post you say we should be sending men, and in the next you say that Mars is dull & lifeless.
    We're progressing towards a manned Mars mission by sending more & more ambitious probes. Look what happened with the Moon landings - blew the entire budget in 9 missions and haven't been back since.
    A Mars sample-return mission will be the next step.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    @Archimedes Screwed

    "Its now approaching FORTY years of dumping machines on the Martian surface"

    Curiosity is only the 7th time we've successfully landed on Mars. It's an invaluable aid to understanding flight dynamics in the Martian atmosphere. Its mission further paves the way to a human Mars mission. Could humans achieve more? Sure. But Curiosity et al help ensure they will do so safely.


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