Curiosity rover beams back first high-quality images of Mars

The Curiosity rover which landed on the surface of Mars on Monday has beamed back its first images of the Red Planet.

Curiosity captured almost 300 colour images during its descent. When put together they show the descent from the heat shield falling away to the moment it touches down. A video of the descent can be seen here.

They are a preview of more than one thousand images of the descent currently held in the rover’s onboard memory.

Curiosity rover's 15-foot (4.5-meter) diameter heat shield falling away Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The image below shows dust clouds that were generated when the Curiosity rover was being lowered to the surface. At this point, Curiosity is about 70 feet (20 metres) above the ground.

They show the direct effects of rocket motor plumes on Mars and show there is a powder-like dust on the Martian surface.

Dust clouds form on the surface of Mars as Curiosity is lowered Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Images like these will be pored over by scientists hoping discover more about the environment the rover will be operating in for the next few years.

Mike Malin, an imaging scientist for the Mars Science Lab mission at Malin Space Systems in San Diego, said:

These images will help the mission scientists interpret the rover’s surroundings, the rover drivers in planning for future drives across the surface, as well as assist engineers in their design of forthcoming landing systems for Mars or other worlds.

– Mike Malin, Malin Space Systems
This image reveals surface features including dark dunes, impact craters and other geologic features Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The black and white images below are taken with different cameras, known as Hazard Avoidance Cameras. They are higher resolution and the rover's tyres can be seen in the foreground.

This image shows what lies ahead for the rover - its main science target, the slopes of Mount Sharp.

Mount Sharp can be seen in the top, and the rover's shadow in the forground Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Mount Sharp stands at a height of about 3.4 miles and is the main reason why the Curiosity team chose the Gale crater as a landing location.

Over the next few years the rover will investigate the mountain's lower layers, which scientists think hold clues to past environmental change.

One of the first images taken by the rover's Hazard Avoidance Cameras Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Read more about all of the images on NASA's website.