Curiosity rover snaps images of huge Martian mountain

NASA has assembled a view of the Red Planet's Mount Sharp from dozens of telephoto images snapped by the Curiosity Mars rover. 

NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
This mosaic of images from the Mast Camera on NASA's Mars rover Curiosity shows Mount Sharp in a white-balanced color adjustment that makes the sky look overly blue but shows the terrain as though it were under Earth-like lighting. The component images were taken in September 2012

NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has captured a stunningly detailed panorama of the giant Red Planet mountain that is the robot's ultimate science destination. 

Rover team members assembled the view of Mount Sharp, which rises more than 3 miles (5 kilometers) into the Martian sky, from dozens of telephoto images Curiosity took last year on Sept. 20. NASA unveiled the image on Friday (March 15).

Researchers put together two versions of the mosaic. One is in raw color, showing Mount Sharp as it would look in a photo snapped by a normal digital camera. The other has been "white-balanced," providing a view of the scene as it would look under Earthlike lighting, complete with a familiar blue sky.

"White-balanced versions help scientists recognize rock materials based on their terrestrial experience," NASA officials wrote Friday in a description of the Mount Sharp panorama. "The Martian sky would look like more of a butterscotch color to the human eye." [Curiosity's Latest Mars Photos]

Both versions of the mosaic are available with pan and zoom functionality at the high-resolution site GigaPan. Go to http://www.gigapan.com/gigapans/125627 for the white-balanced view and http://www.gigapan.com/gigapans/125628 for the raw-color version.

Mount Sharp rises from the center of the 100-mile-wide (160 km) Gale Crater, where the car-size Curiosity rover touched down last August. Scientists aren't sure how the big mountain formed, for there's nothing quite like it on Earth.

The mountain's base shows signs of long-ago exposure to liquid water, and its many layers contain a record of how Mars' environmental conditions have changed over time. Curiosity scientists hope the six-wheeled robot can read these layers like a book as it climbs up through Mount Sharp's foothills.

The Curiosity team is committed to going to Mount Sharp, but the robot won't begin the 6-mile (10 km) trek for at least another few months. Curiosity still has some work to do at a site called Yellowknife Bay, which rover scientists announced last week could have supported microbial life in the distant past.

Curiosity made this discovery after analyzing samples collected from a hole it drilled last month into a Yellowknife Bay rock. Researchers want to confirm and extend their observations by looking at material from a second drill hole in the area.

But more drilling activity won't start until May, team members said. That's because the rover is still fighting through a computer glitch that took out its main computer last month, and an unfavorable alignment of Earth, Mars and the sun will make it tough to communicate with Curiosity for much of April.

Follow Mike Wall on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us @SpacedotcomFacebook or Google+. Originally published on SPACE.com.

Copyright 2013 SPACE.com, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.