Late last year, NASA's Mars rover Curiosity arrived at the "Bagnold Dune Field" on the slopes of Mount Sharp, rolling up to the base of the dark sands of "Namib Dune." The mission has since been studying the area, scooping samples and surveying the surrounding sands. And, of course, taking some pretty spectacular imagery of these extraterrestrial sand dunes.
In January, mission scientists released a full 360 degree view of this fascinating region of the Martian surface, but this week you can really get the Mark Watney experience — NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) scientists have uploaded an immersive, 360 degree "virtual reality" experience to YouTube. Check it out:
(Hint: Push the resolution to the highest setting supported by your monitor/connection and go full screen, it's great.)
What you are seeing is the view from Curiosity's Mastcam as it snapped a series of hi-res photos, assembled as a mosaic. Namib Dune is the dark slope that makes up the majority of the scene and the peak of Mount Sharp can be seen towering in the distance.
Apart from making for a cool immersive experience, Curiosity's studies of the dune and the material it is made of is key to our understanding of wind-blown (aeolian) processes on the red planet. The Bagnold field is known to be "active" and from orbital observations, the dunes are known to roll across the Martian landscape at a pace of around 1 meter per year.
I took particular joy from panning the camera down to look at Curiosity's deck -- red dust can be seen collecting around the instrumentation and cables, making the rover (which landed on Mars in 2012) look as if it absolutely belongs on the dusty alien surface.
This article was provided by Discovery News.