On its way down to Mars, Curiosity's Mars Descent Imager snapped hundreds of low-resolution color images. NASA has pieced together 297 of these images to create a stop-motion video of the Mars landing from the rover's point of view. Watching the video, one can imagine oneself hurtling down toward the red planet, tumbling and spinning as the parachute slows the drop, and then watching the crater's bottom approach ever closer as the rover prepares to land.
The video shows the final two and a half minutes of the rover's amazing ride down to the Gale Crater, starting with a view of the heat shield falling away. The view spins as the rover gyrates in the parachute-assisted portion of the descent, and then becomes steadier as the rover closes in on its target. At the end, exhaust from the descent stage rockets sends up clouds of Martian dust before the sequence fades to black.
The images are both dramatic and informative, according to Mike Malin, a mission imaging scientist. He explained that these and many other photos captured by Curiosity's cameras will help the Mars Science Laboratory scientists visualize the area surrounding the rover and assist the rover drivers as they plan Curiosity's route of exploration. Engineers designing future landing systems will also find the images invaluable.
The low-resolution images released today were merely thumbnails of the images captured during the Mars landing. After the rover has gone through its system checks and establishes more robust communications with the Mars Science Lab team on Earth in the days and weeks ahead, it will start transmitting the high-resolution images, which will no doubt provide both scientists and the general public alike a fascinating view of Curiosity's historic landing.
Curiosity landed on Mars Monday at 1:32 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time. Its mission is to collect and analyze Martian soil and rocks to determine whether life, or conditions favorable to life, ever existed on Mars. Its landing zone inside the 96-mile-wide Gale Crater and near the base of 3-mile-high Mount Sharp provides access to layers of sedimentary rock that may reveal the distant past of Earth's sister planet. It will be fascinating to follow Curiosity's discoveries as it explores Mars in more depth than has ever before been possible.