Curiosity Rover Sends Back Its First Color Photo From Mars And It's A Bit Blurry

By Max Eddy on August 7, 2012 2:25 PM EDT

After a harrowing landing, NASA's Mars Science Laboratory rover is still in the process of waking up. Now, the 2,000 pound rove, called Curiosity, has sent back its first color photo showing the red and rocky landscape it will call home.

The image was taken with the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), which is located on the end of the rover's robotic arm. Because Curiosity is still warming up, the arm is in the same position engineers left it when they packed the robot for launch in November of last year. As a result, the image is 30 degrees off, and has been rotated accordingly.

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Viewers might at first be disappointed by the fuzzy quality of the image. Not to worry: NASA didn't spend $2.5 billion and travel all the way to Mars for blurry pictures. According to the space agency, the hazy quality of the image is because the MAHLI is still shrouded in a protective dust cover. NASA figures that during the landing process, which involved a rocket-powered descent to the planet's surface, some dust must have coated the cover.

Dust covers have already been removed from the rover's hazard avoidance cameras thanks to spring loaded mechanisms. Once NASA is ready to lift the cover on Curiosity's other instruments, clearer images should be available.

Through the mission's Twitter account, Curiosity's team seemed to play off the weird quality of the image. "Good golly miss MAHLI! New color pic from Mars Hand Lens Imager shows tan sands, no @instagram req," referencing the popular image manipulation software Instagram.

The MAHLI is designed to provide close-up images in high-resolution of rocks and other formations of interest. It's primary use is to give scientists a better view of what they're analyzing, much like a magnifying glass, and as such can focus on objects as close as 0.8 inches from the MAHLI. The maximum focusing range is infinite, meaning that it can also be used for longer-range photos like this one.

According to NASA, Curiosity is currently facing west and the photo was taken from the front left-side of the rover. A position which NASA equates to being on the driver's side of a car. The highest peak, seen on the left of the image, is some 15 miles away at the northern edge of Gale Crater about  and about 3,775 feet tall.

In the image below, NASA superimposed the color photo with a simulation of Curiosity's surroundings, giving the image greater context.

Curiosity's mission is, of course, primarily scientific. However, the stark beauty and mystery of an alien planet is good publicity for NASA and for the MSL mission. Once the dust cover comes off, and the rest of Curiosity's cameras are made ready, those of us on Earth should be treated to an astonishing view.  

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