The Descent of MSL (Curiosity) Captured by HiRISE
The Descent of MSL (Curiosity) Captured by HiRISE
ESP_028256_9022  Science Theme: Future Exploration/Landing Sites
NASA’s Curiosity rover and its parachute were spotted by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter as Curiosity descended to the surface on Aug. 5 PDT (Aug. 6 EDT). The High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera captured this image of Curiosity while the orbiter was listening to transmissions from Curiosity.

Curiosity and its parachute are in the center of the white box; and a separate image is a smaller cutout of MSL stretched to avoid saturation. The rover is landing on the etched plains just north of the sand dunes that fringe “Mt. Sharp” (Aeolis Mons).

(Click here for a sharpened version of the descent.)

The parachute appears fully inflated and performing perfectly. Details in the parachute such as the band gap at the edges and the central hole are clearly visible. The cords connecting the parachute to the backshell cannot be seen, although they were seen in the image of Phoenix descending, perhaps due to the difference in lighting angles.

(The MSL suspension lines are made of material called Technora which has a tan color, while the Phoenix suspension lines were Kevlar which is yellow and this may help explain why they aren’t visible in the image.)

The bright spot on the backshell containing MSL might be a specular reflection off of a shiny area. MSL was released from the backshell sometime after this image was acquired.

This view is one product from an observation made by HiRISE targeted to the expected location of MSL about 1 minute prior to landing. It was captured in HiRISE CCD RED1, near the eastern edge of the swath width (there is a RED0 at the very edge). This means that MSL was a bit further east or downrange than predicted.

The image scale is 33.6 cm/pixel.

Late last night MRO/HiRISE captured an image of MSL descending on its parachute. Today we located another object in the image, not present in prior images, that is the right size to be the heat shield that was ejected from the backshell prior to the HiRISE image. We think the object is still in free flight, because we would expect it to disturb a larger area of dust upon impact with the surface. The HiRISE image of the Phoenix lander on its parachute also captured the heat shield in free fall.

This image was acquired 24 hours after MSL landed to locate the hardware on the surface.

The color strip didn't cover the hardware, but does provide a spectacular oblique view of the central mound or “Mount Sharp.”

The viewing angle is 45 degrees, like looking out an airplane window. The subimage has been rotated 90 degrees to provide this perspective.

We also have images of all the hardware: Curiosity, parachute, sky-crane, and the heatshield.

This close-up view shows NASA’s Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars. The image was captured about 24 hours after the rover made its grand appearance on Mars.

As the rover was guided to the surface by the descent stage, rocket thrusters blew away bright surface dust, exposing the darker material seen around the rover. The disturbance is takes on a bilateral symmetric pattern.

This image was acquired from a special 41-degree roll of MRO, larger than the normal 30-degree limit. It rolled towards the west and towards the sun, which increases visible scattering by atmospheric dust as well as the amount of atmosphere the orbiter has to look through, thereby reducing the contrast of surface features. Future images will show the hardware in greater detail. Our view is tilted about 45 degrees from the surface (more than the 41-degree roll due to planetary curvature), like a view out of an airplane window. Tilt the images 90 degrees clockwise to better see the surface from this perspective. The views are primarily of the shadowed side of the rover and other objects.

The image scale is 39 centimeters per pixel.

HiRISE has produced a sharpened version of MSL’s descent. (TIFF format)

This image was given special processing by members of the HiRISE Team, that included removing detector noise and optical blur. The sharpening was achieved by converting the image to its frequency components, correcting for the minor blur that was characterized by pre-flight laboratory measurements, and converting back.


This color-enhanced view shows the terrain around the rover's landing site within Gale Crater on Mars. Colors were enhanced to bring out subtle differences, showing that the landing region is not as colorful as regions to the south, closer to Mount Sharp, where Curiosity will eventually explore. In reality, the blue colors are more gray.

The rover itself is seen as a double bright spot plus shadows from this perspective (looking at its shadowed side), set in the middle of the blast pattern from the descent stage seen as relatively blue colors.

The dark dune fields lying between the rover and Mount Sharp can be seen in the lower portion of the picture. Mount Sharp is out of view, below the image frame. The rover is about 980 feet (300 meters) from the bottom of the picture.

This image was acquired six days after Curiosity landed at an angle of 30 degrees from straight down, looking west. Another image looking more directly down will be acquired in five days, completing a stereo pair along with this image.

The scale of this image cutout is about 24 inches (62 centimeter) per pixel.

This is yet another color-enhanced view of Curiosity. Again, colors have been enhanced to show the subtle color variations near the rover, which result from different types of materials.

The descent stage blast pattern around the rover is clearly seen as relatively blue colors (true colors would be more gray).

The mountain at the center of the crater, called Mount Sharp, is located out of frame to the southeast. North is up.

This image was acquired at an angle of 30 degrees from straight down, looking west. Another image looking more directly down will be acquired in five days, completing a stereo pair along with this image.

The scale of this image cutout is about 12 inches (31 centimeters) per pixel.

Complete observation detail image products:
MSL Descent
MSL EDL Plus 6 Days
Oblique View of Mount Sharp

TIFF format
Descent sharpened version
Descent subimage
Descent long view (Note: this file is over 540MB. It is non-map projected but rotated so that north is approximately up. This file is not annotated, but MSL is in the mid-to-lower right-hand side. The CCDs do not match well at their edges due to the unique image geometry; geometrically-corrected images should be available in a few days.)
Heat shield (150 dpi)
Landing site hardware, annotated (300 dpi)
Landing site hardware, unannotated
Landing site hardware, unannotated long view (555MB)
Mt. Sharp, long view, RGB, non map-projected

A listing of all Gale Crater image acquired by HiRISE. (Not all are MSL-specific).

Written by: Alfred McEwen  (6 August 2012)

Acquisition date
06 August 2012

Local Mars time

Latitude (centered)

Longitude (East)

Spacecraft altitude
262.2 km (162.9 miles)

Original image scale range
34.2 cm/pixel (with 1 x 1 binning) so objects ~103 cm across are resolved

Map projected scale
25 cm/pixel and North is up

Map projection

Emission angle

Phase angle

Solar incidence angle
56°, with the Sun about 34° above the horizon

Solar longitude
150.7°, Northern Summer

For non-map projected images
North azimuth:  97°
Sub-solar azimuth:  27.0°
Black and white
map projected  non-map

IRB color
map projected  non-map

Merged IRB
map projected

Merged RGB
map projected

RGB color
non-map projected

Black and white
map-projected   (1624MB)

IRB color
map-projected   (981MB)

Black and white
map-projected  (626MB)
non-map           (436MB)

IRB color
map projected  (331MB)
non-map           (686MB)

Merged IRB
map projected  (476MB)

Merged RGB
map-projected  (476MB)

RGB color
non map           (638MB)
B&W label
Color label
Merged IRB label
Merged RGB label
EDR products

IRB: infrared-red-blue
RGB: red-green-blue
About color products (PDF)

Black & white is 5 km across; enhanced color about 1 km
For scale, use JPEG/JP2 black & white map-projected images

All of the images produced by HiRISE and accessible on this site are within the public domain: there are no restrictions on their usage by anyone in the public, including news or science organizations. We do ask for a credit line where possible:

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The HiRISE camera was built by Ball Aerospace and Technology Corporation and is operated by the University of Arizona.