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Curiosity rover sends 3-D images of Martian surface

Using its stereoscopic navigation cameras, NASA's new Mars rover has beamed to Earth its first 3-D photos of Mars. 

By Tariq MalikSPACE.com / August 8, 2012

This image is a 3-D view in front of NASA's Curiosity rover, which landed on Mars on Aug. 5 PDT (Aug. 6 EDT). The anaglyph was made from a stereo pair of Hazard-Avoidance Cameras on the front of the rover. The image is cropped but part of Mount Sharp, a peak that is about 3.4 miles high, is still visible rising above the terrain.

NASA/JPL-Caltech

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Break out your 3-D glasses! NASA's new Mars rover has beamed back its first 3-D photos of the Red Planet.

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The Mars rover Curiosity snapped the three-dimensional photos by combining images from the robot's navigation cameras, which operate in pairs to provide stereo views of the Martian surface.

In one photo, the cameras provide a rear-view vista that includes the rim of Curiosity's Gale Crater landing site. One of the rover's six big wheels is visible in the image's lower right.

A second 3-D image from the Mars rover offers a forward view that captures Curiosity's long shadow and part of Mount Sharp, a 3.4-mile-high (5.5-kilometer) mountain, in the distance. Scaling the mountain is one of Curiosity's long-term goals, rover mission scientists have said.

The $2.5 billion Curiosity rover landed on Mars late Sunday (Aug. 5 PDT) and carries 17 cameras in total in order to photograph the planet's surface. The cameras used to make the new 3-D images are hazard-avoidance cameras designed to spot obstacles in the rover's path.

For redundancy, Curiosity has two pairs of hazard-avoidance cameras mounted to its front and another two pairs on its rear. They have fish-eye lenses, according to a NASA description. Curiosity also carries a different set of navigation cameras on its mast to help plan drives on Mars.

NASA's Curiosity rover, which is also known as the Mars Science Laboratory, is expected to spend at least two Earth years exploring the 96-mile-wide (155 km) Gale crater. The 1-ton rover is the size of a car and uses a nuclear power source to run its 10 sophisticated instrument suites.

Mars rover scientists hope Curiosity will able to determine whether Mars is now, or ever was, capable of supporting microbial life.

Currently, mission scientists are checking Curiosity's systems to make sure the rover is in tip-top shape for its two-year Martian expedition. The mission is managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

 Visit SPACE.com for complete coverage of NASA's Mars rover mission. You can follow SPACE.com Managing Editor Tariq Malik on Twitter @tariqjmalik and SPACE.com on Twitter @Spacedotcom. We're also on Facebook & Google+

Copyright 2012 SPACE.com, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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