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Leicester scientist helps to beam back first high-quality images of Mars

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

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

Dr John Bridges from the University of Leicester is leading a team of scientists working on the project.

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 viewed 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

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