Mars rover landing site surprisingly 'Earth-like,' say scientists
Gale Crater, where NASA's one-ton Curiosity Mars rover touched down on Sunday night, looks strikingly similar to California's Mojave desert.
"The first impression that you get is how Earth-like this seems looking at that landscape," said chief scientist John Grotzinger of the California Institute of Technology.
Overnight, the car-size rover poked its head out for the first time since settling in Gale Crater, peered around and returned a flood of black-and-white pictures that will be stitched into a panorama.
It provided the best view so far of its destination since touching down Sunday night after nailing an intricate choreography. During the last few seconds, a rocket-powered spacecraft hovered as cables lowered Curiosity to the ground.
In the latest photos, Curiosity looked out toward the northern horizon. Nearby were scour marks in the surface blasted by thrusters, which kicked up a swirl of dust. There were concerns that Curiosity got dusty, but scientists said that was not the case.
"We do see a thin coating of dust, but nothing too bad," said Justin Maki, imaging scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which manages the mission.
Scientists were giddy about the trenches because it meant Curiosity could drive up to them and start collecting samples once the science phase of the mission gets under way.
Since landing, Curiosity has zipped home a stream of low-resolution pictures taken by tiny cameras under the chassis and a camera at the end of its robotic arm, which remained stowed. It also sent back a low-quality video glimpsing the last 2 1/2 minutes of its descent.