NASA scientists said the image, actually a mosaic of 12 images taken by a high definition camera, is of such high quality that NASA was able to zoom in on details of stones and pebbles in the reddish brown sand in front of the robot.

 

Tuesday's 12-million-pixel image is "three or four times better than any previous mission," said Jim Bell, who is in charge of the "PanCam."

 

The picture is so close to reality that "it is approximately the colour you would see" with your eyes.

 

"They are the highest resolution pictures of Mars ever obtained," offering "exquisite detail, a wonderful mix of both smooth and angular rocks, some a few tens of centimetres across," said Bell.

 

Smooth rocks

 

The mission's principal investigator Steve Squyres said that a peak some 25 to 30 km away was visible from the photo and also described the surfaces of the rocks as "remarkably smooth."

 

Bell noted that the rocks had more blue tones than everything else visible which was largely reddish.

 

The snapshot offers just a segment of the full 360 degree panorama, covering a 45 degree angle. Other photos in the series have not yet been transmitted back to Earth.

 

Artists picture shows the rover
leaving the lander

The Mars Exploration Rover mission's first robot probe Spirit came to rest on the red planet on Sunday. All of its instruments are in perfect working condition.

 

The robot remains on the rover landing platform but is scheduled to start its journey moving across Martian terrain at the start of next week.

 

Second probe

 

A second, identical robot, Opportunity, arrives on Mars on 25 January. Two eyes of the camera, 30 centimetres apart, sit 1.5 meters above ground level on the rover's mast to provide full-circle panorama photos in a 24 frame by three frame mosaic that offer "a combined image full of fine detail."

 

Some 280 NASA scientists are adjusting their body clock to Mars time in order to monitor the two robot probes.

 

To accommodate Martian time, scientists wake 40 minutes later with each passing day, while shutters block out the California sun to simulate night on the red planet.

 

Working near equator

 

Spirit made a successful landing on Mars at the weekend, in the Martian crater Gusev, some 15 degrees south of the Martian Equator.

 

Opportunity makes its descent on the Martian region of Meridiani Planum, two degrees south of the Equator but on the opposite side of the planet to Spirit.

 

With the twin explorers on opposite hemispheres, the teams of NASA researchers for Spirit and Opportunity will alternately go into action when the sun rises on their part of the planet.

 

Running on solar energy, the two Martian rovers have been programmed to get most of their work done between 10:00 and 15:00 (Martian time), when the sun is at its highest over the Martian landscape.