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Why are the Mars rover Curiosity photos 'fascinating'? (Google+ Hangout)

August 10, 2012 | 12:24 pm

What do a week's worth of photos from the Mars rover Curiosity tell us about the Red Planet?

Times science writer Amina Khan will discuss the first week of the mission -- and answer your questions -- during a Google+ Hangout at 1:30 p.m. PDT Friday. You can send questions below or on Twitter using the hashtag #asklatimes.

The rover's mast camera captured a 360-degree color panorama of the vehicle and its surroundings in the landing site in Gale Crater.

PHOTOS: Images from Mars

"We built the thing and we touched it with our hands here, and now it's on Mars," said mission manager Michael Watkins. "So it's fascinating to look back and see our rover again."

The images, each stitched together from multiple photos, serve as proof that the rover's cameras are alive and working.

The photos show almost marble-sized pebbles scattered over the body of the rover -- detritus probably kicked up as Curiosity landed, which wasn't expected but should pose no risk to the instruments on board, scientists said.

Curiosity's ultimate destination is Mt. Sharp, a mound in the middle of Gale Crater; the probe will study the 3-mile-high mountain's exposed sedimentary layers in search of the ingredients for life.

Friday is the last day the NASA scientists and engineers can grab a few more images before a scheduled software update for Curiosity on Saturday.

This "brain transplant," which will ready the rover for surface operations, is expected to last over the weekend and into early next week.


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Photo: A portion of the Curiosity rover's first 360-degree panorama in color of its Gale Crater landing site. Credit: NASA / JPL / Caltech / EPA