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First colour pics of Perseverance on Mars are a sneak peek of what's to come

Friday, February 19th 2021, 4:35 pm - Here's our first look at what this new rover saw on its way from space to the surface of Mars.

Perseverance is now on Mars, and the robot is dutifully sending back the numerous images that it snapped, providing us with a first preview of its amazing journey to the surface.

Immediately after this new rover completed its flawless landing in Jezero Crater, it treated us all to a sneak peak of its surroundings. The images were blurry due to the protective lens covers still being in place. They were also only in black and white, since they were quick thumbnail images sent back to help confirm the success of the landing.

Now, around a day after touchdown, NASA has giving us an updated, full-colour version of the front hazcam view.

Perseverance-First-Colour-Hazcam-Jezero-NASA-JPL-CaltechThis full-colour image taken by the front hazcam was downloaded from Perseverance sometime early on Friday, February 19. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Most of Curiosity's cameras were black and white (only its Mastcam provided colour images). Both of InSight's cameras are black and white as well. In a major upgrade, almost all of the images Perseverance sends back to us will be in colour. Even the hazcams, which provide the rover with views that help it avoid dangerous terrain, are high-resolution full colour cameras. The pictures from these six cameras will provide us with amazing panoramic views of the rover's surroundings, unlike any we've seen from previous missions.

Perseverance didn't wait until it reached the surface to start snapping pictures, though. With nine of its 23 cameras dedicated specifically to the entry, descent and landing, the rover was documenting its entire trip from space to the ground. One of the very first new images revealed on Friday was this one, taken just moments before touchdown.

Perseverance rover drop Skycrane NASA JPL-CaltechIn this colour image snapped by the down-looking Descent Stage camera, Perseverance dangles in mid-air as the Skycrane maneuver gently lowers it to the floor of Jezero crater. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

In the image above, Perseverance hangs on three nylon tethers, as well as the data link cable, below the Descent Stage during the Skycrane maneuver. Visible below the rover is the ground, close enough that the plumes of exhaust from the Descent Stage's jets can be seen displacing the dust on the surface. Although the Descent Stage flew off to crash at a safe distance after it deposited Perseverance at the landing site, the images from its cameras have been stored in the rover. Like this one, the rest will downlink from Mars and we will see them soon!

Perseverance was taking a variety of "selfies" during the landing, looking up at its parachute deployment, down at the ground below the descent stage, and at the rover as it lowered to the ground, but it wasn't the only spacecraft snapping images of the landing. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) was flying overhead at the time, and its HiRISE camera caught the rover in the midst of the parachute stage of the maneuver.

Perseverance Descent from MRO HiRISEHiRISE imagery from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) catches Perseverance descending towards the surface with its parachute deployed. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

According to NASA: "HiRISE was approximately 435 miles (700 kilometers) from Perseverance and traveling at about 6750 mile per hour (3 kilometers per second) at the time the image was taken. The extreme distance and high speeds of the two spacecraft were challenging conditions that required precise timing and for Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to both pitch upward and roll hard to the left so that Perseverance was viewable by HiRISE at just the right moment."

When Perseverance touched down on the floor of Jezero Crater, it had specifically maneuvered its way to a safe location by snapping pictures of the terrain below, and using those to guide its descent. Setting down in a safe, level spot, the rover has apparently already found some of its very first science targets, right next to its front wheel.

Perseverance-First-Colour-image-of-wheel-NASA-JPL-CaltechThe rover's right front hazcam snapped this image of its front right wheel shortly after landing. The pitted rocks it touched down next to will likely be the first targets of its science mission. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Perseverance is still sending back all the images it took during and after the landing. It will be some time before we have the full resolution versions of them all. Still, we should be seeing some spectacular views soon. As early as Monday, NASA should be able to show us what Perseverance saw during its 'seven minutes of terror'. They also have a full panoramic view of the rover and its surroundings on the schedule for Saturday, to be snapped by the high-resolution colour navigational cameras (navcams) located on its mast.

So, stay tuned for more updates in the days ahead!

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