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Mars rover snaps high-resolution photos of itself (+video)

In a test of the powerful camera mounted at the end of its robotic arm, NASA's Curiosity Mars rover snapped some photos of its own wheels and underbelly.

By Tariq MalikSPACE.com / September 10, 2012

This view of the three left wheels of NASA's Mars rover Curiosity combines two images that were taken by the rover's Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) during the 34th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity's work on Mars (Sept. 9, 2012). In the distance is the lower slope of Mount Sharp.

CREDIT: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems

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NASA's Mars rover Curiosity is doing a bit of mechanical navel-gazing on the Red Planet, snapping ultra-clear pictures of itself while testing a powerful camera at the tip of its robotic arm.

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The stunning new Mars photos by Curiosity show detailed views of its wheels and underbelly, a self-portrait of the robot's head-like camera mast and even a snapshot of an odd bit of Americana — a 1909 Lincoln penny used for calibration — that hitched a ride to the Red Planet with the rover.

The Curiosity rover took the photos over the weekend using its Mars Hand Lens Imager, or MAHLI, which is a focusable color camera attached to an instrument turret at the end of Curiosity's 7-foot (2.1–meter) robotic arm. MAHLI snapped its first photo of the Martian surface without a protective dust cover on Saturday (Sept. 8), and then began taking clear pictures of Curiosity itself a day later.

In one photo, the camera takes a clear look at Curiosity's three left wheels in a view that is framed by the rover's belly above. Curiosity's ultimate destination, the 3-mile-high (5-kilometer) Mount Sharp that rises from the center of the rover's Gale Crater landing site, can be seen in the distance. [11 Amazing Things Curiosity Can Do]

Another snapshot, taken on Friday (Sept. 7), captures a dusty view of Curiosity's camera mast. The photo appears hazy not because of a dust storm, but because the dust cover on MAHLI was closed at the time.

The MAHLI device is designed to serve as a microscope-like magnifying camera for close-up studies of rock targets, and it has a resolution of about one 1,000th of an inch (14 microns) when held within an inch of its target. By changing the MAHLI camera's focus and its position (by moving Curiosity's arm), rover mission scientists expect to be able to take time-lapse views of Mars and examine rover hardware while on the Martian surface.

"The main purpose of Curiosity's MAHLI camera is to acquire close-up, high-resolution views of rocks and soil at the rover's Gale Crater field site," NASA officials wrote in one image description. "The camera is capable of focusing on any target at distances of about 0.8 inch (2.1 centimeters) to infinity, providing versatility for other uses, such as views of the rover itself from different angles."

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