On March 4, NASA shared the highest-resolution panoramic Mars image ever captured by its Curiosity rover. The panorama features 1.8 billion pixels and is comprised of more than 1,000 individual images captured by the rover over the Thanksgiving 2019 holiday break in the US.
NASA explains that Curiosity captured two different panoramas using two different lenses: the record-breaking 1.8-billion-pixel panorama using the Mast Camera (‘Mastcam’) with a telephoto lens and a smaller 650-million-pixel panorama using a medium-angle lens. The larger panorama captured with the telephoto lens was not able to include most of the rover in the final image, but the lower-resolution panorama does include Curiosity amid the landscape.
The Mastcam is mounted at a height of 2m (6.5ft) on Curiosity; it supports capturing color images and videos using ‘left eye’ and ‘right eye’ lenses featuring 34mm and 100mm focal lengths. The camera has a resolution of 2MP, which produces images with a 1600 x 1200 resolution. When recording video, Curiosity’s Mastcam can capture 10 frames per second. According to NASA, the rover’s 8GB storage can hold 5,500 or more Raw frames.
While the mission team was away on holiday leave from November 24 to December 1, Curiosity worked to snap images using Mastcam over a six-and-a-half-hour period of time spread across four days. The camera was programmed to take the images from between noon and 2 PM local time to ensure that the lighting was consistent for the eventual panorama.
NASA explains this holiday break provided a rare moment of downtime for the rover, which typically does not stay in one place long enough to capture so many images from the same vantage point. The resulting 1.8-billion-pixel panorama, which exceeds the rover’s previous record 1.3-billion-pixel image, took ‘months’ to assemble.
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Curiosity project scientist Ashwin Vasavada said:
While many on our team were at home enjoying turkey, Curiosity produced this feast for the eyes. This is the first time during the mission we’ve dedicated our operations to a stereo 360-degree panorama.
The public can download a full-resolution version of the 1.8-billion-pixel panorama in JPEG and TIFF formats from NASA JPL’s website here, as well as the 650-million-pixel version from the same link. At its highest resolution, the panorama has a massive 2.43GB file size. The space agency offers lower quality versions with file sizes ranging from 82MB all the way down to 350KB.
In addition, NASA has an online 360-degree viewer to present the panorama in full screen with a zoom tool.