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Martian sand dune
A portion of a 360-degree panorama captured by NASA’s Curiosity rover shows a portion of a 16-foot-high sand dune on Mars, with the summit of Mount Sharp in the far background. The bottom of the image is distorted due to the 360-degree effect. (Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS)

The 16-foot-high sand dune that NASA’s Curiosity rover has been skirting around on Mars looks even more imposing in a 360-degree panoramic view you can explore on the Internet.

NASA passed along the spherical panorama, as well as a red-blue version suitable for 3-D viewing, in an image advisory posted today. But panorama prestidigitator Andrew Bodrov got an early crack at the imagery. Even before Christmas, Bodrov posted the picture as a 360-degree panorama you can spin around on your screen. See it full screen for the best results – and if you’re a virtual-reality developer, put it on your list for the full headset treatment.

The dominant feature is Namib Dune, a huge pile of grayish-reddish sand that has been built up by the action of Martian winds. It’s part of the Bagnold Dunes, a series of sandy slopes that line the northwest flank of 3-mile-high Mount Sharp.

Curiosity’s science team is studying the dunes to learn how sand behaves in Mars’ low-gravity environment. Sequential images taken from orbit show that some of the Bagnold Dunes migrate by as much as a yard in the course of an Earth year, NASA says.

In today’s image advisory, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory reported that an arm-motion fault affected rover operations for a few days in December. The fault was traced to a minor software issue, and Curiosity’s robotic arm resumed normal operations on Dec. 23, NASA said..

The nuclear-powered Curiosity rover landed on Mars in August 2012 and is making its way up Mount Sharp to study variations in its geological layers. The readings are providing further insights into the history of Martian climate and habitability over the course of billions of years. Check out Curiosity’s website for regular updates, and get set to celebrate the 12th anniversary of the Opportunity rover’s landing on Mars later this month.

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