360-degree, full-resolution panorama from NASA's Curiosity rover shows area all around the rover within Gale Crater on Mars. Photo: AFP/NASA
The photo-snapping rover Curiosity has returned another postcard from Mars: the first 360-degree colour panorama of Gale Crater.
In the distance is the base of Mount Sharp, a five-kilometre-high mountain rising from the crater floor, where the six-wheel rover plans to go. ''It's very exciting to think about getting there, but it is quite a way away,'' a mission scientist, Dawn Sumner, of the University of California, Davis, said.
Although it is the sharpest view yet of the landing site, the panorama was stitched together from thumbnail pictures while scientists waited for better quality pictures to be downloaded. Since safely landing on the planet, Curiosity has dazzled scientists with peeks of its new home. The initial pictures were fuzzy and black-and-white.
Earlier this week, the rover raised its mast containing high-definition and navigation cameras that have provided better views. Curiosity ''continues to behave basically flawlessly'', said mission manager Mike Watkins, of the NASA Propulsion Laboratory, which manages the $US2.5 billion mission. At the weekend, the rover will take a break so its computers can get a software upgrade.