NASA published a 360-degree image on the Curiosity rover's official Facebook page last week that was meant to let viewers "explore Mars" with their smartphones. It was a great idea, and it teases at how, someday relatively soon, we'll be able to explore other planets virtually well before any of our descendants get a chance to do it in person.
Unfortunately, the rover isn't equipped with a camera that can shoot 360-degree video, let alone three-dimensional VR. So the spherical image had to be hand- (or computer-) stitched by someone at NASA from dozens of high-resolution images. The result was messy — the images were stretched so badly Mars looked almost unrecognizable.
A much better version of the one released last week
Luckily, a new version has just been uploaded to the YouTube channel of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and it looks much better. You can click-and-drag around the image in your browser, but you'll want to view it in the YouTube app on your phone for the full effect.
In the spherical image, Curiosity is parked in front of the "Namib Dune," just one in a series of what's known as the "Bagnold Dunes." These dunes stretch for miles along the base of Mount Sharp, and move as much as three feet (one meter) per Earth year thanks to the strong winds on Mars. The images were taken on December 18th, 2015, by the rover's Mast Camera.
The rover's path, so far.
Curiosity has been on Mars since August of 2012, and it's done some pretty amazing science since it arrived. The rover's detected methane (which could be coming from biological sources), helped discover liquid water, and much more. It's also taken some beautiful images. If Curiosity can keep motoring around the red planet for even half as long as the Opportunity rover, there should be much more to come. And here's hoping that whatever succeeds it will be equipped with a VR rig.