June 19, 2013 at 2:50 PM ET
Fans of extraterrestrial anomalies will have a field day with the billion-pixel view of the Curiosity rover's surroundings at a place called Rocknest on Mars. The 360-degree clickable panorama lets you zoom in on an eerie Martian "bird," a weird series of holes, or a shiny object sitting on the Red Planet's surface.
Never mind that all these anomalies are perfectly explainable: It's a weird and wonderful way to take in all the sights that the rover has been seeing, from the pebbles in front of its own wheels to the slopes of faraway Mount Sharp.
"It gives a sense of place and really shows off the cameras' capabilities," Bob Deen of the Multi-Mission Image Processing Laboratory at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said in a news release about the interactive image. "You can see the context and also zoom in to see very fine details."
Deen assembled the 1.3-billion-pixel zoomable mosaic using 850 frames from the telephoto camera of Curiosity's MastCam instrument, supplemented with 21 frames from MastCam's wider-angle camera and 25 black-and-white frames — mostly of the rover itself — from the NavCam system. The images were taken on several different Mars days between Oct. 5 and Nov. 16, 2012.
This isn't the first billion-pixel pic from Curiosity: Russian photographer Andrew Bodrov assembled 407 frames from MastCam's cameras to create a 360-degree, 4-billion-pixel Martian panorama, as seen in December and January from a vantage point known as "Grandma's House."
The cool thing about JPL's panorama is that you can click right into some of the main attractions — ranging from a bird-shaped rock, to the holes left behind by Curiosity's laser-blasting ChemCam instrument, to a shiny scrap of material that apparently fell off the spacecraft. Give it a look, either by going to JPL's website or checking out GigaPan's gallery.
More about Mars:
Alan Boyle is NBCNews.com's science editor. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by "liking" the NBC News Science Facebook page, following @b0yle on Twitter and adding the Cosmic Log page to your Google+ presence. To keep up with NBCNews.com's stories about science and space, sign up for the Tech & Science newsletter, delivered to your email in-box every weekday. You can also check out "The Case for Pluto," my book about the controversial dwarf planet and the search for new worlds.