Using its stereoscopic navigation cameras, NASA's new Mars rover has beamed to Earth its first 3-D photos of Mars.
The Mars rover Curiosity snapped the three-dimensional photos by combining images from the robot's navigation cameras, which operate in pairs to provide stereo views of the Martian surface.
In one photo, the cameras provide a rear-view vista that includes the rim of Curiosity's Gale Crater landing site. One of the rover's six big wheels is visible in the image's lower right.
A second 3-D image from the Mars rover offers a forward view that captures Curiosity's long shadow and part of Mount Sharp, a 3.4-mile-high (5.5-kilometer) mountain, in the distance. Scaling the mountain is one of Curiosity's long-term goals, rover mission scientists have said.
The $2.5 billion Curiosity rover landed on Mars late Sunday (Aug. 5 PDT) and carries 17 cameras in total in order to photograph the planet's surface. The cameras used to make the new 3-D images are hazard-avoidance cameras designed to spot obstacles in the rover's path.
For redundancy, Curiosity has two pairs of hazard-avoidance cameras mounted to its front and another two pairs on its rear. They have fish-eye lenses, according to a NASA description. Curiosity also carries a different set of navigation cameras on its mast to help plan drives on Mars.
NASA's Curiosity rover, which is also known as the Mars Science Laboratory, is expected to spend at least two Earth years exploring the 96-mile-wide (155 km) Gale crater. The 1-ton rover is the size of a car and uses a nuclear power source to run its 10 sophisticated instrument suites.
Mars rover scientists hope Curiosity will able to determine whether Mars is now, or ever was, capable of supporting microbial life.