NASA, the U.S. space agency, released on Monday the first high-resolution color mosaic from the Curiosity rover in the Gale Crater on Mars.
“The images show a landscape that closely resembles portions of the southwestern United States in its morphology,” NASA said.
Of most interest to geologists “is a section on the crater wall north of the landing site where a network of valleys believed to have formed by water erosion enters Gale Crater from the outside,” it said.
The Curiosity team is also looking at areas south of the landing site that the rover will explore “including the rock-strewn, gravelly surface nearby, the dark dune field and the layered buttes and mesas of the sedimentary rock of Mount Sharp,” it said.
The images in the mosaic were acquired over the course of an hour on August 9 and, once transmission to Earth is completed, will consist of 130 1,200-by-1,200 pixel full-color images.
Also on Monday, President Barack Obama called members of the Curiosity team at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, to congratulate them on the "incredibly impressive" mission, NASA said.
"We could not be more excited," Obama is quoted as saying. He told the team that "it's really mind boggling what you've been able to accomplish."
During the next two years, Curiosity will use its 10 instruments to investigate whether conditions on Mars have been favorable for microbial life and for preserving clues in the rocks about possible past life.