Video: New picture from Mars

updated 8/7/2012 2:30:22 PM ET 2012-08-07T18:30:22

NASA's Curiosity rover has snapped its first color photo of the Martian landscape from the surface, using a camera that is still packed away on its long robotic arm.

The new Mars photo reveals a view of the terrain north of the Curiosity rover, and shows the north wall and rim of Gale Crater in the distance, NASA officials said Tuesday in an image description.

Curiosity touched down on the Red Planet on Sunday night inside Gale Crater, a sprawling impact basin that stretches 96 miles (154 kilometers) across. While a camera on the rover's underbelly snapped hundreds of color photos of Mars from above during the descent, the new image is the first color view from Curiosity on the ground.

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The rover's first color surface photo was taken by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), which is located on a turret at the end of the rover's robotic arm. Curiosity snapped the photo on the afternoon of its first day after landing, which mission controllers label Sol 1 to mean the first Martian day of operations. Curiosity's Sol 1 on Mars began while Monday was in progress on Earth.

At this time, Curiosity's robotic arm is still stored the way it was when the spacecraft launched into orbit last Nov. 26. The robotic arm will be extended in upcoming days as Curiosity's mission team performs checks of the rover's systems. Later on Tuesday, Curiosity is expected to raise its camera-tipped mast, which can take high-resolution images of Mars, as part of those checks.

MAHLI's removable dust cover is coated with Martian dust kicked up during the rover's descent, giving the image its slightly fuzzy appearance. Mission managers are planning to take photos without the transparent dust cover in place in the coming weeks, as they continue checking out the rover's various instruments and system.

With the robotic arm still packed away, MAHLI looks out from the front left side of the rover, and is in a position that is rotated 30 degrees relative to the deck of the rover, NASA officials explained. This image has been rotated to correct that tilt, so the sky is "up" and the ground is "down" when viewing the landscape.

Curiosity's MAHLI camera is designed to capture detailed, high-resolution images of rocks and soil. The camera's sharp focus makes it capable of taking photos of small objects up close, as well as sprawling Martian landscapes.

The $2.5 billion Curiosity rover is expected to spend at least 98 weeks (two Earth years) exploring Gale Crater during its primary mission. The robot is the largest rover ever sent to Mars and carries a sophisticated set of instruments to determine if Mars can now, or could ever in the past, be habitable for microbial life.

Visit Space.com  for complete coverage of NASA's Mars rover mission. Follow Space.com on Twitter @Spacedotcom. We're also on Facebook  and Google+.

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Photos: Month in Space: January 2014

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  1. Southern stargazing

    Stars, galaxies and nebulas dot the skies over the European Southern Observatory's La Silla Paranal Observatory in Chile, in a picture released on Jan. 7. This image also shows three of the four movable units that feed light into the Very Large Telescope Interferometer, the world's most advanced optical instrument. Combining to form one larger telescope, they are greater than the sum of their parts: They reveal details that would otherwise be visible only through a telescope as large as the distance between them. (Y. Beletsky / ESO) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A balloon's view

    Cameras captured the Grandville High School RoboDawgs' balloon floating through Earth's upper atmosphere during its ascent on Dec. 28, 2013. The Grandville RoboDawgs’ first winter balloon launch reached an estimated altitude of 130,000 feet, or about 25 miles, according to coaches Mike Evele and Doug Hepfer. It skyrocketed past the team’s previous 100,000-feet record set in June. The RoboDawgs started with just one robotics team in 1998, but they've grown to support more than 30 teams at public schools in Grandville, Mich. (Kyle Moroney / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Spacemen at work

    Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov, right, and Sergey Ryazanskiy perform maintenance on the International Space Station on Jan. 27. During the six-hour, eight-minute spacewalk, Kotov and Ryazanskiy completed the installation of a pair of high-fidelity cameras that experienced connectivity issues during a Dec. 27 spacewalk. The cosmonauts also retrieved scientific gear outside the station's Russian segment. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Special delivery

    The International Space Station's Canadian-built robotic arm moves toward Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Cygnus autonomous cargo craft as it approaches the station for a Jan. 12 delivery. The mountains below are the southwestern Alps. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Accidental art

    A piece of art? A time-lapse photo? A flickering light show? At first glance, this image looks nothing like the images we're used to seeing from the Hubble Space Telescope. But it's a genuine Hubble frame that was released on Jan. 27. Hubble's team suspects that the telescope's Fine Guidance System locked onto a bad guide star, potentially a double star or binary. This caused an error in the tracking system, resulting in a remarkable picture of brightly colored stellar streaks. The prominent red streaks are from stars in the globular cluster NGC 288. (NASA / ESA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Supersonic test flight

    A camera looking back over Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo's fuselage shows the rocket burn with a Mojave Desert vista in the background during a test flight of the rocket plane on Jan. 10. Cameras were mounted on the exterior of SpaceShipTwo as well as its carrier airplane, WhiteKnightTwo, to monitor the rocket engine's performance. The test was aimed at setting the stage for honest-to-goodness flights into outer space later this year, and eventual commercial space tours.

    More about SpaceShipTwo on PhotoBlog (Virgin Galactic) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Red lagoon

    The VLT Survey Telescope at the European Southern Observatory's Paranal Observatory in Chile captured this richly detailed new image of the Lagoon Nebula, released on Jan. 22. This giant cloud of gas and dust is creating intensely bright young stars, and is home to young stellar clusters. This image is a tiny part of just one of 11 public surveys of the sky now in progress using ESO telescopes. (ESO/VPHAS team) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Fire on the mountain

    This image provided by NASA shows a satellite view of smoke from the Colby Fire, taken by the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer aboard NASA's Terra spacecraft as it passed over Southern California on Jan. 16. The fire burned more than 1,863 acres and forced the evacuation of 3,700 people. (NASA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Where stars are born

    An image captured by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Orion Nebula, an immense stellar nursery some 1,500 light-years away. This false-color infrared view, released on Jan. 15, spans about 40 light-years across the region. The brightest portion of the nebula is centered on Orion's young, massive, hot stars, known as the Trapezium Cluster. But Spitzer also can detect stars still in the process of formation, seen here in red hues. (NASA / JPL-Caltech) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Cygnus takes flight

    Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares rocket rises from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va, on Jan. 9. The rocket sent Orbital's Cygnus cargo capsule on its first official resupply mission to the International Space Station. (Chris Perry / NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A long, long time ago...

    This long-exposure picture from the Hubble Space Telescope, released Jan. 8, is the deepest image ever made of any cluster of galaxies. The cluster known as Abell 2744 appears in the foreground. It contains several hundred galaxies as they looked 3.5 billion years ago. Abell 2744 acts as a gravitational lens to warp space, brightening and magnifying images of nearly 3,000 distant background galaxies. The more distant galaxies appear as they did more than 12 billion years ago, not long after the Big Bang. (NASA / NASA via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Frosty halo

    Sun dogs are bright spots that appear in the sky around the sun when light is refracted through ice crystals in the atmosphere. These sun dogs appeared on Jan. 5 amid brutally cold temperatures along Highway 83, north of Bismarck, N.D. The temperature was about 22 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, with a 50-below-zero wind chill.

    Slideshow: The Year in Space (Brian Peterson / The Bismarck Tribune via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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