NASA released a stunning 360-degree panoramic video of Mars on Wednesday, created from shots taken by the Curiosity rover, allowing Earthlings to take a personal tour of the fourth planet from the sun.
More than a hundred separate images taken by the Rover were pieced together to portray Mars’ dusty, sandy landscape, including several rocky hills in the background. The Rover’s arm is also visible in the photo.
The Rover, called Curiosity, has ambled over sixteen miles over the Martian surface since it first landed in its Gale Crater in 2012.
On July 3, NASA’s Rover captured arresting photographs of the Red Planet’s unique landscape atop Mount Sharp. The images, which were painstakingly assembled into a single video, show that Curiosity had traveled into a rocky area with stones consisting of salty sulfates which leads into another region that has rocks that are mostly made of clay.
The different geological layers on Mount Sharp, which is itself located inside the Gale Crater, may help researchers finally understand how Mars became the dry place that it is today, according to Space.com.
Travelogue of the Martian landscape
Gizmodo says that NASA compiled 129 individual images taken with the Rover’s camera, perched atop its mast, to create the stunning 360-degree panoramic vistas that are a travelogue of the Martian landscape.
However, in a striking departure from previous images beamed from Mars, NASA color-balanced these new photos to show exactly how the planet would look if it had similar light conditions to those on Earth — rather than the reddish tint it has as the sun filters through its atmosphere.
NASA is continuing its longstanding research into the composition of rocks on Mars to see how its climate and geology has changed over the eons. NASA believes that the rocks will show the scientists how Mars lost the water that it once had over time.
Curiosity has explored the Gale Crater for nine years now to see if Mars ever had the right conditions to support microbial life at some point in its development. The rover has already observed sedimentation patterns that scientists believe indicate that the Gale Crater was home to a lake and stream system billions of years in the past.
Space.com reports that ever since Curiosity finally reached the base of Mount Sharp in 2014 it has been ever so slowly and methodically climbing the five-mile (26,400 foot) tall mountain and exploring its foothills to see why and how its lake system dried up over time.
Abigail Fraeman, Curiosity’s deputy project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, says in a statement that “The rocks here will begin to tell us how this once-wet planet changed into the dry Mars of today, and how long habitable environments persisted even after that happened.”
Exploration will shed light on how Mars became arid over time
Sulfates, which are what some of the newly-discovered Martian rocks are made from, form in relatively dry conditions, so NASA suspects that this area on Mount Sharp may explain how Mars’ climate altered.
Gizmodo reports that the incredibly striking images seen in the video today were made possible because Mars’ famed red dust had settled enough for Curiosity to take clear snapshots of the landscape surrounding it.
Now that winter has come to the red planet, climatic conditions allowed for the photographs, showing the floor of the crater and the 16-mile-long path that Curiosity, to finally be taken.
And this isn’t the last video tour of Mars that may come out of the mission. There are at least two more years in Curiosity’s battery, so NASA scientists are planning for further jaunts around Mount Sharp and its environs.
In 2022, Curiosity is slated to explore Rafael Navarro Mountain, which was named for a NASA astrobiologist, and take another look at Mars’ Greenheugh Pediment.