Video: Mars Curiosity Rover Sends Back High Resolution Photos

NASA's Curiosity rover began sending back high-quality images from Mars Wednesday morning.

NASA
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Two days after touching down on Mars, Curiosity sent back photos of its first detailed look at the red planet's surface Wednesday morning.

[Photos: NASA's Curiosity Lands on Mars]

Curiosity sent up its camera-equipped mast Wednesday and began to snap higher-resolution photos and videos of its surroundings. Previous images of the mission came from more basic cameras mounted lower on the rover meant more for examining rocks and avoiding surface hazards than panoramic views. That explained the fish-eye wide angles and the dusty lenses in the first photos.

Wednesday the 1-ton rover raised its seven-foot robotic arm and began taking pictures of the 360 degree-view around the rover. The photos show the Gale Crater and Mt. Sharp, a mountain to the southeast.

The rover's newest pictures are the careful beginning of a two-year mission on the red planet. After a complex series of maneuvers involving a large parachute, a sky crane, and a heat shield the rover touched down successfully Sunday night.

[Video: Mars Curiosity Rover Touches Down Safely]

The NASA team overseeing the $2.5 billion program then ensured all the rover's systems and instruments were fuctioning. On Tuesday the car-sized vehicle raised its antennae to allow for direct communication with Earth. NASA scientists predict Curiosity's roving will not begin for a few weeks.

The rover's mission will be to examine the Martian surface and immediate subsurface to determine whether microbial life could survive on the planet presently or in its past. Curiosity is the most expensive and most technically complex rover ever to touch down on Mars. The previous two rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, landed in 2004 and are still on the planet.

Seth Cline is a reporter with U.S. News and World Report. Contact him at scline@usnews.com or follow him on Twitter.