Launched on 26 November 2011, NASA’s Curiosity is a car-sized rover designed to explore the crater Gale on Mars.
The goal is to investigate the Martian climate and geology; assessment of whether the selected field site inside Gale has ever offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life, including investigation of the role of water; and planetary habitability studies in preparation for human exploration.
As of March 5, 2020, Curiosity has been on the planet Mars for 2556 total days; 7 years. The rover is still operational and recently snapped its highest-resolution panorama yet of the Martian surface.
The rover’s Mast Camera, or Mastcam, utilized its telephoto lens to create the panorama. Composed of more than 1,000 images taken during the 2019 Thanksgiving holiday and carefully assembled over the ensuing months, the composite contains 1.8 billion pixels of the Martian landscape.
When North America celebrated its Thanksgiving holiday last year in between Nov. 24 and Dec. 1, the Curiosity was exploring the Glen Torridon. It required more than 6 1/2 hours over the four days for Curiosity to capture the individual shots.
Mastcam operators programmed the elaborate task list, which included pointing the rover’s mast and ensuring the pictures were in focus. To provide consistent lighting, they confined imaging to between noon and 2 p.m. local Mars time each day.
Ashwin Vasavada, Curiosity’s project scientist at NASA‘s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which leads the Curiosity rover mission, said, “While many on our team were at home enjoying turkey, Curiosity produced this feast for the eyes. This is the first time during the mission we’ve dedicated our operations to a stereo 360-degree panorama.”