NASA’s Curiosity rover gives us a breathtaking 360-degree view of Mars

NASA is back at it with the mesmerising celestial images. This time, it’s Mars, brought to your mortal earthling eyes by the space agency’s Curiosity rover, a robotic device which has been roaming the surface of the planet since 2012.

NASA recently released 360-degree footage of its Curiosity rover as it bumbles around Mars, giving an unprecedented insight into the environment on the uninhabitable planet. Sounding like a mountain lodge retreat for over-50s, Curiosity is currently on the Vera Rubin Ridge and has been feeding panoramic footage back to the space agency.

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The images are predictably breathtaking, with NASA describing the landscape in a blog post as encircled by “umber skies, darkened by a fading global dust storm”. How’s that for an aesthetic…

The moody red scenes of Mars aren’t all NASA’s Curiosity rover has to offer. In fact, the footage gives watchers a rare glimpse of the device itself; the Mast Camera veers temporarily onto the rover, revealing a thin layer of dust on its outer shell.

The footage was released hot on the heels of news that Curiosity successfully extracted a new rock sample on 9 August. Meanwhile, Ashwin Vasavada, Curiosity’s project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, was keen to flag up the unprecedented vibrancy of Mars’ surface: “The rover has never encountered a place with so much variation in colour and texture,” explains the blog post.

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Explaining this further, Vasavada elucidated, “The ridge isn’t this monolithic thing — it has two distinct sections, each of which has a variety of colours […] Some are visible to the eye and even more show up when we look in near-infrared, just beyond what our eyes can see. Some seem related to how hard the rocks are.”

The best way to test the geological makeup of these rocks is to drill them into a powder, something that, astonishingly, Curiosity is able to do in its two internal laboratories. As such, the device may be able to discover what’s causing the disparity in rock strength. Scientists want to unearth what substance is acting as “cement” within the ridge, in turn enabling it to withstand wind erosion.

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For now, it’s a work in progress, with the eminently capable Curiosity well on its way to unearthing the some of the myriad mysteries of Mars. In the meantime, we’re free to revel in all the celestial marvels we can lay our eyes on, thanks to Curiosity’s stunning insights.

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