The green diamond in this image represents JPL's current best guess as to Curiosity's landing spot on Mars, with the landing ellipse in blue. The green shaded areas (estimated by IEEE Spectrum) represent the field of view of Curiosity's Hazcams.
Last night, there was some speculation about just what exactly was visible on the horizon in the first Hazcam pics from Curiosity. After some additional late-night (or rather, early morning) analysis, the MSL team has some guesses about what we're looking at, along with an estimate of Curiosity's position on the surface. In other words: we now know approximately where the rover is, as well as which way she's facing, which makes what we're seeing in the Hazcam images [UPDATE: check out a brand new front Hazcam image below!] that much more amazing.
In the above picture (which we whipped up with input from MSL engineers), the green shaded areas represent the fields of view of Curiosity's front and rear Hazcams. The rover is facing approximately 115 degrees southeast. The rim of Gale Crater is behind the rover, while there's a dune field (that dark swath) in front of her, with the slopes of Mt. Sharp to the south and east. This immediately puts the Hazcam images in context; for example, here's the rear image, which JPL has linearized to remove horizon distortion and then cropped:
In the distance you can see the rim of Gale Crater, something like 20 kilometers distant, with the sun in the background. The rover's left rear wheel is in the foreground.
And here's the front Hazcam image. Remember, this image was taken with the clear dust protector still covering the camera lens, which is why it looks dirty: it is, in fact, covered in dirt kicked up by the sky crane when the rover landed, and it's also just half the resolution that we got from the rear camera:
We're looking from the opposite side as the rear Hazcam pic, meaning that the sun is behind us, which is where that beautiful shadow comes from. The lower arrow is pointing out a dark band across the image which is likely the dark dune field just to the east of the rover that you can see in the overview map. The other arrow points out what JPL says seems to be the outline of Mt. Sharp: if you look closely, you can see the northern slope, a peak, and then hints of a southern slope as well.
It's expected that by 4PM today, we'll be getting back a higher resolution version of that front Hazcam pic with the dust cover removed, which should give us a beautiful view of Mt. Sharp. We're also expecting some color descent imagery, so check back later in the afternoon or early evening for an update.
UPDATE: We just got a new high-res, dust-free image from the front Hazcam!
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Evan Ackerman is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Since 2007, he has written over 6,000 articles on robotics and technology. He has a degree in Martian geology and is excellent at playing bagpipes.