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Mars Crater Is 'Earth-Like', Say Scientists
Stunning new images beamed back from the Mars robot rover show a landscape that resembles Earth, according to Nasa.
Scientists say the planet's looming mountains and hanging haze are like the Mojave Desert in California.
"The first impression that you get is how Earth-like this seems looking at that landscape," John Grotzinger, chief scientist of the California Institute of Technology said.
He added: "It kind of makes you feel at home.
"We're looking at a place that feels really comfortable."
Overnight, the car-sized Curiosity rover poked its head out for the first time since settling in Gale Crater. It then peered around and returned a black-and-white self-portrait and panorama that is still being processed.
It provided the best view so far of its destination since touching down on Sunday night after nailing an intricate choreography.
During the last few seconds, a rocket-powered spacecraft hovered as cables lowered Curiosity to the ground.
In the latest photos, Curiosity looked out toward the northern horizon. Nearby were scour marks in the surface blasted by thrusters, which kicked up a swirl of dust.
There were concerns that Curiosity got dusty, but scientists said that was not the case.
"We do see a thin coating of dust, but nothing too bad," said Justin Maki, imaging scientist at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which manages the $2.5bn mission.
Scientists were giddy about the scour marks because they exposed bedrock below - information that should help them better understand the landing site.
Since landing, Curiosity has sent home a stream of low-resolution pictures taken by tiny cameras under the chassis and a camera at the end of its robotic arm, which remained stowed.
It also sent back a low-quality video showing the last two minutes and 30 seconds of its descent.
The rover's ultimate destination is a mountain towering from the centre of the crater floor.
Preliminary estimates indicate Curiosity landed four miles away from the base of Mount Sharp, thought to contain intriguing signs of past water - a starting point to learning whether microbial life could exist.
Before the one-tonne, nuclear-powered Curiosity can start roving, it has to undergo several weeks of tedious but essential health checks.