The latest discovery from the Curiosity rover showcases a breathtaking mosaic capturing the vibrant colors and lighting variations on the Martian surface during morning and afternoon. On April 8, before departing the Marker Band Valley, the robotic explorer utilized its black-and-white navigation cameras to create panoramic views. One panorama was taken at 9:20 a.m. local Mars time, while the other was taken at 3:40 p.m.
These black-and-white panoramas demonstrate the striking differences in the landscape between the two times of day. To enhance the visual experience, a team at NASA added color to the images during post-processing. The blue hues represent the morning lighting, while the yellow tones signify the afternoon.
Doug Ellison, the Curiosity engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, likened the changing scene to the transformation one observes in a national park from morning to afternoon. By capturing images at two distinct times, the panoramas highlight the contrasting shadows created by the incoming light from different directions, akin to stage lighting but relying solely on the Sun.
Ellison, the lead for the Mars exploration team’s rover cams, devised the plan for Curiosity to capture the panoramas and processed the images to construct the mesmerizing mosaic. Since its touchdown in 2012, Curiosity has been diligently exploring the foothills of Mount Sharp, a towering structure measuring 3 miles (5 kilometers) in height, located at the center of Gale Crater. In the mosaic image, the Marker Band Valley extends beyond the tracks left by the rover, serving as a testament to its unexpected discovery of ancient lake evidence.
The heightened shadows in the image are a result of the panoramas being taken during winter at Gale Crater, when airborne dust particles are in closer proximity to the surface. Ellison explains that Mars’ shadows appear sharper and deeper in times of low dust, while they become softer when there is an abundance of dust present.
Image Source: NASA Curiosity