A Billion Pixels of Mars-scape

An imaging specialist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory has painstakingly stitched together 896 images to create a 360° panorama of the terrain around the Curiosity rover.

NASA's Curiosity team has taken its time learning how to operate the sophisticated rover, which landed inside Gale crater on Mars more than 10 months ago. It's taken a while to get some instruments and mechanisms working to their full capabilities.

But not the cameras.

Mission scientists wasted little time using the two full-color imagers atop the rover's mast to survey the surroundings in great detail. The left-hand MastCam has a lens with a 34-mm focal length that captures a view about 18° wide and 15° tall. Its right-hand sibling has the same detector (1,600 by 1,200 pixels per frame) but a 100-mm lens, yielding a field a third as large and much better resolution: 2.9 inches (7.4 cm) per pixel at a distance of about 3,300 feet (1 km).

Up to now these MastCams have been hard at work chronicling all the rolling, drilling, and sifting that Curiosity has accomplished to date. But several months ago, the rover team took a little time for sightseeing and snapped away as the mast turret turned. The result? A 360° panorama that, trumpeted today in a NASA press release, contains 1.3 billion pixels in all.

Curiosity's billion-pixel panorama
Here's the entire 896-image panorama, in raw color, looking toward south at center and toward north at the left and right edges. Click here for an enlarged (but not full-resolution) version.
NASA / JPL / MSSS
Curiosity recorded the panorama from October 5th to November 16th, when the rover was in an area dubbed Rocknest. Bob Deen, a member of the Multi-Mission Image Processing Laboratory at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, has been working since then to complete this digital opus. MastCam 100 took the great majority of these, though MastCam 34 chipped in 21 frames the black-and-white navigation cameras another 25. You might notice that in some places the shadows are a little mismatched, or that the clarity of the atmosphere changes here and there.

You can download the full composite if you want — while you eat dinner, perhaps — in either raw-color mode (as recorded) or the white-balanced version (as the scenery might look in Earth-like lighting).

Sample from Curiosity's billion-pixel panorama
Tracks from Curiosity's wheels crisscross this tiny sample of a 1.3-billion-pixel panorama of the rover's landing site released by NASA on June 19, 2013.
NASA / JPL / MSSS
But skip those for now and jump right over to the interactive viewer that lets you pan around and zoom in (or out). I love the cylindrical viewer — it's a much more convincing "you are there" experience. Be sure to click on some of the "highlights" called out along the right edge.

Interestingly, Curiosity's raw images are easily accessed, so in theory you could have tried piecing this together yourself.

In fact, some spacecraft aficianados have been doing this piecework all along. Take a look, for example, at this 256-MB, 175.5-megapixel marvel created by Jodie Reynolds from frames shot during the rover's first week on Mars. ("This may make your browser explode if you don't have a lot of machine behind it," she warns. You might want to check out this version first.)

Another giga-effort comes from Vitaliy Egorov, who has posted a 681-megapixel composite of 392 Curiosity images taken late last year during sols 107-111 and 113.

Anyway, this makes me all-the-more eager to see the close-up views of Aeolis Mons — er, "Mount Sharp" — that'll be radioed back to Earth in the months ahead, once Curiosity actually reaches its primary objective.

2 thoughts on “A Billion Pixels of Mars-scape

  1. Zé De Boni

    NASA is hiding the problems with this expensive rover. Almost one year "to get some instruments and mechanisms working to their full capabilities" is ridiculous. The former rover duo had traveled much longer distances, pictured more outstanding landscapes and sent much more scientific data in the same period of time. It was advertised that the more advanced rover would profit from their former experience and more powerful tools. It seems that it is stuck close to its landing place investigating an area of little interest, as compared to what Opportunity and Spirit have shown to us. The image, despite its billionaire resolution, is not relevant when you recall the image gallery from the former mission. The waste of energy stitching such dull image is a clear sign the failure of the mission: they have nothing better to show. But they do not admit it, they must justify their billionaire budget feeding the media with any news, however cheap.

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