While NASA scientists were busy binge-eating turkey and online shopping last November, the Curiosity Rover wasn’t taking a break, instead snapping a 1.8 billion-pixel image from the surface of Mars. The 360-degree panorama, shared by NASA on March 4, is the highest resolution captured by the Curiosity Rover yet, providing enough detail to zoom in on some impact craters, ridges, and mountains, and some Martian dirt believed to have once been underwater.
The Curiosity Rover had to spend four days in the same spot to capture the panorama — which is likely one of the reasons Nasa hasn’t attempted such a high-resolution panorama before. To get the rover working while NASA scientists were off on Thanksgiving break, the Mastcam operators programmed the rover to take those photos, adjusting the position of the rover mask and focusing the camera.
The process took Curiosity six and a half hours over the span of four days at the end of November 2019, because the camera was only set to work between noon and 2 p.m. Mars time in order to achieve consistent lighting across the entire panorama.
That same panorama took NASA researchers months to stitch together. Between 1,000 and 1,200 photos were used to assemble the final photograph.
At the same time, Curiosity also snapped photos with its medium angle lens, which is wide enough to capture a panorama that includes part of the rover itself. The 650-megapixel panorama has a lower resolution but still offers enough detail to get a close-up look at the rover’s wires and the Martian dust coating its surface.
Both photos capture the area called Glen Torridon.
While the photo is the highest resolution stitch from the now 7-year-old rover, the team has in the past instructed the rover to snap the images for a 1.3 billion-pixel stitch.
“While many on our team were at home enjoying turkey, Curiosity produced this feast for the eyes,” Ashwin Vasavada, Curiosity’s project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement. “This is the first time during the mission we’ve dedicated our operations to a stereo 360-degree panorama.”
To get the full effect of what 1.8 billion pixels look like, explore the image using NASA’s navigation tool.