In its first color picture from the surface of Mars, released Tuesday, NASA's Curiosity rover shows the rim of its new home, 15,000-foot-deep (4,600-meter-deep) Gale Crater, shortly after landing on Monday.
The photo was shot with the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) on the end of Curiosity's robotic arm. But because the arm hasn't yet been fully activated and the rover isn't yet mobile, the camera for now can point only in the direction dictated by the landing position.
"We can't control the orientation of the rover on landing," Peter Theisinger of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) said at a pre-landing press conference. "If it's pointed at the mountain, we'll get a great picture of the mountain. If it's pointed at the rim, we'll get a great picture of the rim."
Actually, the idea of a great picture may be a bit optimistic at the moment, regardless of orientation.
Dust kicked up by the Mars landing has settled on the transparent shield meant to protect the camera during descent. In about a week, though, the cap will be removed, NASA scientists say, allowing sharper images in the future.
—Richard A. Lovett