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Curiosity leaves its mark on Mars: Tracks photographed from space

September 06, 2012|By Deborah Netburn
  • Tracks from the first drives of NASA's Curiosity rover are visible in this image captured by the High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Tracks from the first drives of NASA's Curiosity rover are visible… (NASA / JPL-Caltech / University…)

It's only been there for a month, but Curiosity has already left its mark on Mars.

On Thursday NASA released a photo that shows tracks made by the car-sized rover on the surface of the Red Planet. The rover is the shiny, light reflecting square in the right portion of the picture; the tracks are the double lines trailing behind it.  

Curiosity is also responsible for the two dark marks in the center of the photo, NASA explained in a statement: They were formed when the rover landed and blew the red dust that covers much of the planet away, revealing the darker basaltic sand underneath.

The photo was taken by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE), a camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance orbiter. So in other words, this picture was taken from space. 

If you find these pictures thrilling, you are not alone. The Associated Press reports that there was "much high-fiving" among NASA scientists when they first saw the images. Mission manager Michael Watkins explained that the tracks gave the scientists a visual sense of accomplishment. 

NASA said the tracks can serve a scientific purpose as well. "Observing the tracks over time will provide information on how the surface changes as dust is deposited and eroded," the space agency wrote in a statement.

Curiosity hasn't gone too far since it landed on Mars on Aug. 5. NASA reports that the rover has driven just 358 feet. 

NASA scientists will spend the next several days testing out the rover's robotic arm. Then the team will drive Curiosity to its first destination on the planet -- the awesomely named Glenelg Intrigue, where scientists plan to put Curiosity's drill to work.

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