For the past five-plus years, Mars’ Curiosity rover has been exploring Mars, sending interesting findings back home to Earth, with many more details about the Red Planet yet to be discovered. But even if it wasn’t the actual anniversary of Curiosity landing on Mars – that took place in August 2012 – NASA took time this week to recognize all those years of data gathering, releasing two composite images taken in recent months.
A report from the Washington Post described what was featured in the first Curiosity “selfie,” as NASA made sure to use photos that represent the rover’s many milestones. These individual images, which were shot in October 2017, included photos taken from Mount Sharp’s lower slopes, and from the same crater floor where it touched down in 2013, located some 11 miles away.
In a statement posted on the NASA website, Curiosity project scientist Ashwin Vasavada said that the composite represents the first time he and his fellow scientists can see the entire mission from above.
“From our perch on Vera Rubin Ridge, the vast plains of the crater floor stretch out to the spectacular mountain range that forms the northern rim of Gale Crater.”
The second “selfie” featuring the Curiosity Rover was a mosaic consisting of photos taken on Vera Rubin Ridge on January 23, and it also offers a glimpse of Mount Sharpe, this time showing it in the background. The images were taken by the rover’s Mars Hands Leg Imager (MAHLI) camera, and unlike many a conventional selfie, neither Curiosity’s arm nor the instrument were visible. NASA noted that the same techniques were used when photographing other Curiosity self-portraits, including the first one, which was taken in October 2012.
“Wrist motions and turret rotations on the arm allowed MAHLI to acquire the mosaic’s component images,” NASA’s website reads.
“The arm was positioned out of the shot in the images, or portions of images, that were used in this mosaic.”
Although the Curiosity rover has sent back a good amount of information for research purposes over the last five years, the Washington Post noted that many had felt disappointed in the lack of available data to mine, considering how it was launched as the “most complex” instrument NASA had ever sent to Mars. In 2014, a NASA panel had even gone so far as to comment that the rover was doing “more sightseeing than science” on the Red Planet’s surface.
As noted by USA Today, the Curiosity Rover gathers science observations with its 17 cameras, 10 science instruments, a laser for vaporizing Martian rocks, and a seven-foot-long arm. The vehicle, according to Space.com, is approximately the same size as a smaller car, with a weight of about 2,000 pounds, including all cameras and other instruments.