Two images taken with the hazcams of the Curiosity are the first photos from… (NASA )
Moments after the 10:32 p.m. confirmation of the Mars Science Laboratory's Sunday touchdown on the surface of the Red Planet, the rover known as Curiosity sent back its first grainy black-and-white image from the landing site in Gale Crater.
Curiosity's shadow loomed in the late-afternoon light over the surface in a photo shot by one of the vehicle's hazard avoidance cameras, or hazcams, which sit on the lower front and back of the rover.
The black-and-white "thumbnails," taken through the hazcams’ wide-angle "fish-eye" lens, appeared grainy and dark due to a circle of dust specks -- kicked up from Curiosity’s dramatic landing -- on the cameras’ clear protective covers.
Seven more images from the hazcams followed, relayed by the Mars orbiter Odyssey as it passed overhead.
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“It’s a wheel!” someone shouted as the scientists and engineers in the control room at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory recognized the rover’s appendage in the corner of an image.
As the dust settled, a camera popped off its protective cover and snapped a higher-resolution photo of the landscape, showing dark, textured turf. When the scientists factored out the foreground, they could pick out what seemed to be hills in the background -- possibly the rim of Gale Crater, said John Grotzinger, the mission's project scientist and a Caltech geologist.
“I’m just taking a guess right now,” he added.
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More photos are expected as NASA's Mars orbiters relay information back from the rover.
The first photos were for utility rather than beauty. They served as immediate visual proof of the landing’s success -- success credited in great part to Adam Steltzner, the mission’s lead for the probe's entry into the Martian atmosphere, its descent and landing.
“Thank you, Adam, for getting us on the surface -- I think that is the best picture of Mars I have ever seen,” Grotzinger said of the grainy photos, as Steltnzer’s mouth twisted with emotion.
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