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Emily LakdawallaAugust 7, 2012

First full-resolution MARDI frame: Bye-bye, heat shield

Well, this was a nice surprise. The MARDI images from Curiosity's descent to Mars were posted to the Curiosity raw images website several hours ago, but I didn't notice until someone on pointed out that among the nearly 300 thumbnail frames (200 by 150 pixels) there was a single full-resolution image, and it contained the heat shield far below the rover. So cool. It is still mind-blowing to think that this snapshot was taken by a spacecraft flying in the air above a different planet.

Curiosity's heat shield falling toward Mars

NASA / JPL / MSSS / Emily Lakdawalla

Curiosity's heat shield falling toward Mars
A color MARDI image from the descent sequence shows the heat shield falling far below the rover. It was taken Sol 0 (2012-08-06 05:15:39 UTC).

The raw image has some odd and distracting compression artifacts, so I did some light tweaking of the image in Photoshop to suppress them. "Compression artifacts" are features that weren't in the original image that get introduced into the image when it is run through an algorithm that shrinks its file size with some cost to the quality of the image. They have to compress the heck out of most of the images that are coming down from Curiosity right now because it's only communicating at 8 kbps right now, which is a pretty darned low data rate. It'll be wonderful when they finally get that high-speed link to Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter working and they can start downlinking at 2 Mbps.

Eventually, we should be getting back the entire MARDI descent video uncompressed, but the uncompressed frames are low in priority compared to science and engineering data, so we'll probably have to wait for some time. I thought about noodging the color and contrast a little bit to bring out more features on the surface, but when I tried that the image lost the sense of atmosphere separating the heat shield and the surface, so I decided to leave the color alone.

Related: Emily's continuing coverage of the latest images from Curiosity

Read more: pretty pictures, spacecraft, amateur image processing, pics of spacecraft in space, Mars, Curiosity (Mars Science Laboratory)

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Emily Lakdawalla

Senior Editor and Planetary Evangelist for The Planetary Society
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