Mars has been in the news a lot just lately, and it’s fair to say it’s unlikely to be fading from the headlines anytime soon. Elon Musk has just said he wants to send a rocket there by 2018, China’s also making plans to visit the red planet in the next few years, and some physicist guy recently said it may one day be possible to reach get from Earth in a mere 30 minutes – instead of around nine months.
Of course, the day humans step foot on its barren, dusty surface is still a ways off, though a new panoramic video from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab offers the next best experience if you’re at all curious about what it might be like to actually visit the fourth planet from the sun.
The imagery was shot earlier this month by the Mast Camera – aka Mastcam – on NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover, which has been puttering around the planet’s surface for the last four years.
“The view combines dozens of images taken during the mission’s 1,302nd sol, or Martian day, by Mastcam’s left-eye camera from a location on top of what rover team members call ‘Naukluft Plateau’ on lower Mount Sharp, which stands inside Gale Crater,” NASA explains.
The visible roughness of the terrain has been taking its toll on Curiosity rover, which has so far trundled across about eight miles of the Martian landscape.
“Holes and tears in the rover’s aluminum wheels became noticeable in 2013,” NASA said in a statement, adding that as a result it’s had to reroute the rover across more suitable ground.
There’s no cause for alarm, however, as the space agency says rover’s “cracks and punctures have been gradually accumulating at the pace we anticipated, based on testing we performed.”
So with slightly battered wheels, Curiosity is set to continue exploring other parts of Mount Sharp, which should bring Mars fans more 360-degree imagery such as the one above and this stunner, shot earlier in the year. Besides snapping some fancy photos, scientists are hoping Curiosity will help them gain a better understanding of “how long ancient environmental conditions remained favorable for microbial life, if it was ever present on Mars, before conditions became drier and less favorable.”
Most of the sky and rover hardware have been excluded from the final image as they were deemed irrelevant to this particular project, the space agency said. You can explore the scene by dragging the image around with a mouse, though for a better effect take a look at it using your smartphone or a VR headset.