On Wednesday, NASA unveiled a rather large postcard sent back from Mars by the Curiosity rover. It’s in the form a panoramic image packing more than one billion pixels that was stitched together from 896 images. NASA sees the gigapixel image as a way for “armchair explorers” to take a close-up look at the Red Planet by means of an interactive webpage.

This is not the first such panorama of the Red Planet. In March, we reported on a four-gigapixel image put together from NASA images by Andrew Bodrov. However, this is the first one put together by NASA itself. The 1.3-billion-pixel image shows “Rocknest,” where Curiosity collected its first scoops of Martian soil. The individual images that make up the mosaic were collected over several Martian days from October 5 to November 16, 2012.

The view is centered toward the south, with north at both ends, Curiosity in the foreground and Mount Sharp on the horizon. Since the images used to make the panorama were taken over several Martian days at various times and under various weather conditions, the end product has a slightly uneven look as the light and dust levels change from place to place.

"It gives a sense of place and really shows off the cameras' capabilities," says Bob Deen of the Multi-Mission Image Processing Laboratory at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "You can see the context and also zoom in to see very fine details."

Deen made the panorama from 850 frames from the telephoto camera of Curiosity's Mast Camera instrument, 21 frames from the Mastcam's wider-angle camera and 25 grayscale images from the Navigation Camera. GigaPan took the panorama and converted it into an interactive pan and zoom image. It’s available through the NASA website and at GigaPan, with a scaled down 159 MB version also available for download.

“The NASA JPL gallery on the GigaPan site allows researchers and the general public to zoom in on the intricate features of unique terrain in these Mars images,” says Josh Friedman, CEO of GigaPan. “We hope this level of interactivity will not only support the mission’s overall research goals, but also help increase public interest in the Mars exploration program.”

The video below details Curiosity’s cameras.

Sources: NASA, GigaPan (PDF)

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