Curiosity Mars rover shoots spectacular full-circle panorama

A 360-degree view of the Red Planet's surface is the latest amazing image beamed to Earth from NASA's Curiosity Mars rover.

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    This view was created from images taken by the Curiosity rover's navigation camera. Fresh tracks, from the rover's 70-foot (21-meter) drive on Friday are visible.

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A new full-circle photo from NASA's Curiosity rover shows the robotic explorer's fresh tracks on Mars as it continues trekking east toward its first science destination.

Curiosity drove roughly 70 feet (21 meters) on Aug. 30, the mission's 21st Martian day, toward a spot called Glenelg. This site, which is located 1,300 feet (400 m) away from where the rover touched down on Mars last month, is home to three different types of terrain, making it an intriguing science target.

Photos from Curiosity's navigation camera were stitched together to create this 360-degree view of the Red Planet. Fresh tracks from the rover's drive last week can also be seen across the sprawling terrain.

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It will take several weeks for Curiosity to reach Glenelg, and the rover may make a stop to test functions on its robotic arm, NASA officials said in an update last week. Once it reaches its destination, Curiosity is expected to begin using its drill for the first time.

On Sept. 1, Curiosity drove an additional 98 feet (30 meters) and tested its "visual odometry" system, which enables the rover to determine the distance it has traveled by analyzing its own images, agency officials said. On its wheels, the rover has imprints of the Morse Code symbols for "JPL" — the abbreviation for California's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which houses Curiosity's mission control. As the rover drives over Mars, it leaves patterns in the Martian dirt that scientist can study to calculate how far it has traveled.

Over the weekend, Curiosity also performed a test analysis using its Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument, and collected a sample of the Martian atmosphere with its Sample Analysis at Mars instrument (SAM).

The $2.5 billion Curiosity rover, which landed on Mars Aug. 5 (PDT), is carrying 10 different science instruments and 17 cameras. The car-size rover is embarking on a two-year mission to determine whether the Martian environment could ever have supported microbial life.

For complete coverage of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover mission, visit here.

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