Curiosity rover shoots new self-portrait

NASA’s released a new, stunning self-portrait of the Curiosity Mars rover, stitched together from dozens of high-resolution images.

The pictures were taken on October 31 and November 1 by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), and show the rover at Rocknest. This is the spot in Gale Crater where the mission’s first scoop sampling took place, and four scoop scars can be seen in the sand in front of the rover. A fifth scoop was collected later.

NASA doesn’t just produce these portraits to hang on the dining room wall: they help mission engineers spot changes such as dust accumulation and wheel wear. MAHLI’s location on the end of the robotic arm means that it’s the only one of the rover’s 17 cameras that can image some parts of the craft, including the port-side wheels.

It’s possibly worth pointing out that the reason that the robotic arm can’t be seen in the photo is that it’s out of shot in each of the images or parts of images used to create the composite picture. A previous self-portrait, similarly based on multiple photos, sparked suggestions online that the whole thing was faked.

This latest picture shows the rover’s ultimate destination, Mount Sharp, in the background, rising three miles above Gale Crater. Curiosity’s due to head off to the mountain some time in February, in a journey that could take nine months. On the way, mission scientists plan to stop and sample several rocky outcrops.

First, though, Curiosity is on another rock-hunting mission. It’s currently in an area known as Yellowknife Bay, which has a different terrain to those sampled so far. Over the next month, it will drill into another rock and extract powder for analysis.