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NASA scientists get first rover's-eye view of Gale Crater on Mars (+video)

The rover Curiosity, which touched down on Mars early Monday, has so far sent back seven images of the surface, including a fuzzy profile of Mt. Sharp, the mountain in the center of Gale Crater.

NASA's Mars rover Curiosity lands on Mars
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NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has phoned home, told its handlers all is well, and provided researchers with their first look at some of the rover's surroundings.

As of Monday morning, Curiosity has sent along only seven small images, taken with the four pairs of hazard-avoidance cameras mounted on the front and rear of the rover's chassis.

Their fish-eye views of the surface, processed to look like normal photos, have given the science and engineering teams their first on-the-ground look at the rim of Gale Crater some 12 miles away, as well as the fuzzy profile of Mt. Sharp, the three-mile-high mountain in the crater's center, and dune fields a mile or two away. Beyond the dune fields, the region of the mountain's base that the science team would like to explore is about six miles from the rover.

Mt. Sharp is Curiosity's ultimate destination as it hunts for signs that, at some point early in the planet's history, Gale Crater might have sported habitats suitable for sustaining life.

In addition, NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) snapped a "Welcome to Mars" image of the rover and its descent module, suspended from a 70-foot-wide parachute that helped slow the craft as it headed toward the surface.

The orbiter has taken more than 120 images of Gale Crater, images that played a key role in the site's selection as Curiosity's new home.

But the shot of Curiosity hanging from its 'chute "is the coolest one," says Sarah Milkovich, a researcher at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., and a member of the science team using MRO's HiRISE camera to study the Martian surface. HiRISE captured Curiosity's descent from a respectful distance of nearly 215 miles.

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