Spirit, the first of US twin rovers landed on Mars three days ago, has sent back its first color image of the Red Planet, a spectacular "postcard" which scientists said is the most detailed picture even taken on another planet.
"They are the highest resolution pictures of Mars ever obtained," Jim Bell, the scientist in charge of the cameras on board Spirit, said at a press conference held Tuesday at US space agency NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, where the photograph was released.
The 12-million-pixel picture, a mosaic of 12 photos snapped by the six-wheeled rover's panoramic cameras, was three to four times sharper than the best Mars images taken before.
It was also 16 times higher in resolution than earlier black-and-white panoramic pictures shot by Spirit's navigation cameras, Bell said.
The latest picture covered a 45-degree field of view of the terrain in Gusev Crater, where Spirit landed safely last Saturday, representing about one-eighth of the full 360-degree panorama the rover's panoramic cameras can take.
It was just a glimpse of bigger and better pictures to be transmitted back in the coming days, scientists said.
The task of Spirit is to spend the next three months exploring for clues in Martian rocks and soil about whether the past environment in Gusev Crater was ever watery and possibly suitable to sustain life.
The crater, as big as the US state of Connecticut, is thought to be an ancient lakebed.
(Xinhua News Agency January 7, 2004)