This image, revealed at the 9AM post-landing press conference at JPL, has to be one of the most spectacular space pictures ever taken, ever. It was captured last night by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and unveiled by Sarah Milkovich, investigation scientist with MRO's HiRISE camera. It shows MSL about six minutes into its descent, heading towards the surface at Gale Crater. Wow.
Here's the full-res version:
Below is a stretched closeup of MSL; you can very clearly see the band gap in the parachute as well as the hole in the center. The resolution is about 33 centimeters per pixel, and MRO was 340 kilometers away (almost directly above MSL) when this was taken. MRO captured the image about six minutes into the EDL phase, which was one minute from landing. The backshell is obviously still on, but they're not quite sure whether the heat shield has been dropped or not at this point.
HiRISE will be making another high-quality pass in about six days, at which point the spacecraft should have a good chance of getting a pic of Curiosity on the surface.
[ HiRISE ]
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.