Think of this as an appetizer

Seth Jarvis

This is just a taste of the kind of imaging from Mars we’ve been waiting for!

The Mars Science Laboratory team just released this new full-color, hi-res panoramic view of the Curiosity Rover landing site.  Trust me, you want to go get that image.

Here it is in a smaller format.

Curiosity has begun sending hi-res panoramic images! Hey - what's with those gray patches?


You’ve all downloaded the full-sized image now, right?

So what are we to make of the two sets of two gray patches on the ground on either side of Curiosity?

Those gray patches are where the rocket exhaust of the landing vehicle scoured the dust from the surface.

Remember, Curiosity is a one-ton car-sized vehicle.  It’s way too big and heavy to be delivered to Mars via bouncy-ball airbags as was done with previous missions.

Curiosity had to be suspended from a rocket-powered landing vehicle and lowered by cables from the lander onto the surface. That was the now-famous “Skycrane” maneuver.

What effect are those rockets having on the ground while it hovers?

That meant that a vehicle capable of suspending both itself and Curiosity with rocket power had to carefully hover 60 feet in the air over one spot while it lowered Curiosity onto the ground.

During those few seconds of hovering, the exhaust plumes from the rockets still managed to scour away the loose dust covering the Martian bedrock.  Imagine what a mess they would have made if they got closer to the ground!  Thus, the necessity of the “Skycrane” maneuver.

And against the upper left corning in this image is Mount Sharp, a three mile high mountain whose layers of rock will be the focus of Curiosity’s explorations for the next two years or more.

And Curiosity hasn’t even moved from its landing site!

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