Earth-like images greet Mars rover - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Earth-like images greet Mars rover

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Jennifer Trosper, a project systems engineer with the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, points out details on the Curiosity rover at a press conference on Aug. 8. (Source: NASA) Jennifer Trosper, a project systems engineer with the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, points out details on the Curiosity rover at a press conference on Aug. 8. (Source: NASA)
Two of the first full-resolution images of Mars show the rim of Gale Crater in the distance. (Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech) Two of the first full-resolution images of Mars show the rim of Gale Crater in the distance. (Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
A close up image of the surface shows tan sands and rocks scattering the surface of the Red Planet. (Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS) A close up image of the surface shows tan sands and rocks scattering the surface of the Red Planet. (Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

(RNN) - Cameras on the Mars-based Curiosity rover beamed back high-definition images of an eerily Earth-like planet covered in pebbles and rocks.

"It makes you feel at home," said John Grotzinger, a project scientist for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory. "The great experience there is that we're looking at a place that feels really comfortable and what's going to be interesting is finding out all the ways that it's different."

Grotzinger compared images of the planet to images of the Mojave desert, joking that there was "a little LA smog," coming into the frame of one of the images.

Curiosity landed on Mars early Monday after taking more than eight months to travel 352 million miles.

On Wednesday, Jennifer Trosper, a project systems engineer with the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said the "rover works perfectly."

Curiosity will spend the next two years on the Red Planet, examining the rocks and raw materials found on the planet to determine if Mars supports life or ever has.

It is exploring the ancient Gale Crater, a landmark estimated to be billions of years old and measuring nearly 100 miles in diameter, although scientists have not pinpointed where they want the rover to go or how far they'd like it to travel.

"All our options are open for science," Grotzinger said.

High resolution images coming back from the rover show a spatter of pebbles over a layer of what scientists believe is bedrock.

"You can see a harder, rocky surface under gravel and rocks," Grotzinger said.

A panorama constructed using thumbnail images from the rover hint at some of the amazing photographs that could soon illuminate the Red Planet for Earthlings here at home, although scientists warn that the images of tan sands might not be completely accurate.

"Any color information would be suspect," said Michael Malin, the man in charge of the Mars Science Laboratory Mast Camera. The rover is outfitted with a color lens similar to those on digital cameras.

The Curiosity is roughly the size of a car and weighs in at 2,000 pounds. It's outfitted with a geology lab, a rock-vaporizing laser and a cache of cameras. It uses nuclear power to keep running.

The last time NASA sent spacecraft out to Mars was in 2008, when the Phoenix Lander was launched to search for water and explore the Martian Arctic.

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