With robots, satellites, and Hollywood films focusing on Mars, the red planet is becoming more and more familiar to us. NASA’s astronomy picture of the day occasionally features evidence of flowing water on Mars or sunsets taken from the surface. The most intimate of these images is usually taken by the amazing rovers that drive around the alien world. The latest is a 360 degree panoramic uploaded as a 360 degree video on YouTube.
The newest rover on the planet, Curiosity, is currently exploring Gale Crater and is on its way up Mount Sharp. Early in March it climbed to a lower part of the mountain called the Naukluft Plateau. The rover has no 360 degree video camera so NASA have stitched dozens of images together. The first half of the 2-minute video features labels popping up to highlight points of interest. If you have Google Cardboard, now is the time to use it:
Gale Crater once held a long-lived lake that was lost when Mars became the dry, cold world we see today. Curiosity has passed through regions where samples contain clay and evidence of an ancient water world. The terrain in this video is very different though, with dry and dusty rocks eroded by winds.
Curiosity has been on Mars since 2012 and has travelled about 7.9 miles while collecting samples for scientific analysis. All that driving through tough terrain has taken its toll on Curiosity and now there are holes in its wheels. Steve Lee, Curiosity’s deputy project manager, feels optimistic. “Cracks and punctures have been gradually accumulating at the pace we anticipated, based on testing we performed at JPL. Given our longevity projections, I am confident these wheels will get us to the destinations on Mount Sharp that have been in our plans since before landing.”
It’s been a tough ride but we’re happy that Curiosity is still sciencing the shit out of Mars. The Spirit and Opportunity rovers were supposed to operate for around 100 days yet they lasted for years and Opportunity is still going strong over a decade after it landed. Last year it had finally completed a marathon distance and it only took 11 years and 2 months. Here’s hoping Curiosity’s wheels hold up for as long.
If you want to see the panorama in a higher resolution, the original image is available.
Main image © NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS