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Featured Image Credit: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
There's exciting news from outer space today, as NASA has released an incredible 1.8 billion pixel panorama picture of Mars.
And it's all thanks to the space agency's car-sized Curiosity rover, which snapped more than 1000 high-quality photos of the Martian landscape over Thanksgiving last year.
These images were sent back to Earth where teams of experts carefully assembled them over the following months to create the 360-degree view.
"While many on our team were at home enjoying turkey, Curiosity produced this feast for the eyes," said Ashwin Vasavada, Curiosity's project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which leads the rover's mission.
"This is the first time during the mission we've dedicated our operations to a stereo 360-degree panorama."
The latest release marks the largest panorama the Curiosity rover has ever taken. Its high resolution means viewers can zoom in and inspect details such as the three-mile-long Slangpos crater and a crumbling cliff known as the Greenheugh Pediment.
The photos were taken over the course of four days, between 24 November to 1 December, so while the team were at home enjoying the US holiday, the exploration device had a rare moment to capture its surroundings with impeccable detail.
Explaining the equipment used to take the images, a statement from NASA reads: "The rover's Mast Camera, or Mastcam, used its telephoto lens to produce the panorama.
"Meanwhile, it relied on its medium-angle lens to produce a lower-resolution, nearly 650-million-pixel panorama that includes the rover's deck and robotic arm."
Curiosity is a robotic device that explores the planet, gathering information about the surface and its atmosphere for researchers.
Since landing on Mars in 2012, the bot has achieved a number of milestones for the space agency, including a 1.3-billion-pixel panorama in 2013.
More recently, it captured a strange white light on the Martian terrain that left many believers hoping it was a sign of alien life.
NASA, however, offered up a pretty reasonable, if not slightly unsatisfying answer to the strange phenomenon.
"One possibility is that the light is the glint from a rock surface reflecting the sun," said a spokesperson at the time of the release.
"When these images were taken each day, the sun was in the same direction as the bright spot, west-northwest from the rover, and relatively low in the sky.
"The rover science team is also looking at the possibility that the bright spots could be caused by cosmic rays striking the camera's detector."