How NASA's Mars Curiosity Rover Took a Spectacular Selfie on the Red Planet

NASA's Curiosity rover has snapped a spectacular selfie on the surface of the red planet. But how did the vehicle take the image?

The rover captured the photo in front of a rocky outcrop measuring around 20 feet tall, which the Curiosity team has dubbed "Mont Mercou" after a mountain in France.

Curiosity, which has been operating on Mars since 2012, created the selfie with the help of two camera systems that each took several images. These images were later combined.

The first camera system is known as the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), which is positioned on the rover's robotic arm and captured 60 images of the scene on March 26, 2021.

This instrument is like the rover's magnifying glass, capable of capturing close-up images of minerals, textures and structures in rocks and soils on the Martian surface.

The other camera system is the Mastcam, located on the mast or "head" of the rover. Mastcam took 11 images on March 16, which were combined with the 60 captured by MAHLI, producing the selfie.

The Mastcam system is made up of two cameras mounted at a height of around 6.5 feet. Its main job is to take color images and video footage of the Martian terrain. These images can be stitched together to create panoramas.

The selfie shows Curiosity—not to be confused with NASA's latest Mars rover Perseverance—in front of Mont Mercou alongside a new hole that the vehicle had dug recently with its robotic drill.

NASA Curiosity Mars rover selfie
NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover used two different cameras to create this selfie in front of Mont Mercou, a rock outcrop that stands 20 feet tall. NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The sample that Curiosity collected from this drill hole was the 30th of its ongoing mission. To date, the rover has clocked more than 3,100 days on the red planet, having landed in the Gale crater on August 6, 2012.

In September 2014, the car-sized, nuclear-powered rover reached the outskirts of the 3.4-mile-high Mount Sharp, which forms a peak within the Gale crater.

Since then, it has been steadily climbing upwards, investigating the different rock layers. These investigations could shine a light on Mars' transition from what scientists think was once a relatively warm and wet world to the arid planet we know today.

The rock that Curiosity sampled was nicknamed "Nontron" by the rover team after a village in the southeast of France that is located close to Mont Mercou.

The team chose nicknames related to this area of France for the region that Curiosity is exploring on Mars because a type of clay mineral known as nontronite has been detected in this part of the red planet. Nontronite was discovered in 1827 near Nontron in France, hence the name.

Nicknames are given to landmarks and features on Mars to make communication easier between NASA mission team members.