NASA’s Curiosity rover is quite the photographer. As most Americans were busy chowing down on their favorite Thanksgiving dinner, the six-wheeled robotic explorer was beefing up its portfolio, creating one epic panorama in the process.
“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 news release. “This is the first time during the mission we’ve dedicated our operations to a stereo 360-degree panorama.”
In between commands, the rover decided to take advantage of the Earthly holiday, capturing the images while its team back on Earth had some downtime. This chance allowed Curiosity to not only capture its surroundings in stunning detail but also to do so several days in a row.
Curiosity landed on Mars in 2012, and ever since, its been enthralling the masses with its stunning vistas and dusty selfies. But this latest image surpasses all others. With the help of its imaging team here on Earth, more than 1,000 photos were stitched together to create a 1.8 billion pixel panorama.
NASA’s even provided a cool tool that lets viewers zoom in on all the glorious details.
It took the rover six hours over four days to capture the images used in this epic view. Currently, Curiosity is exploring a 16,404-foot tall (3.1-mile-high) mountain inside Gale Crater called Mount Sharp. The panorama features an exciting region on the mountain called Glen Torridon.
Each day, between noon and 2 p.m. local time, the rover snapped images of its surroundings, which ensured that lighting was consistent across all the photos. Before the team went on break for the Thanksgiving holiday, they made sure the rover had what it needed to take the best images.
Curiosity used a telephoto lens on its Mastcam to create the panorama, while also relying on a medium-angle lens to produce a second panorama. Containing nearly 650-million pixels, the second image also shows the rover’s deck and robotic arm.
Glen Torriddon, which is named for the Scottish Highlands, is especially interesting to scientists because it contains a treasure trove of clay minerals. Curiosity was tasked with evaluating how habitable Mars once was. The rover has yet to find signs of life, but it did discover that Gale Crater was once the site of an ancient lake, and may have been a hospitable environment capable of supporting life.
Curiosity will soon be joined by the Mars 2020 rover early next year. Launching in July, once it lands on Mars, the rover will scour the planet’s surface in search of biosignatures, or signs of life (past or present).