Bellow is the first actual-size photo of Mars taken from the NASA's rover "Curiosity". On the NASA's website you can see other images. Despite the fact that the planet's photos are fascinating, they all share some common qualities.

They are:

  • Black-and-white
  • Small
  • Have large white margin around the image

Question: Why don't NASA use colour and large photos?

First image taken by NASA's Curiosity rover

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


2 Answers 2


There are 17 cameras on the rover. The primary camera system, the MastCam, hasn't even been deployed yet. The mast will be raised and the cameras brought online within the next few days or weeks.

The images you've seen are from the hazard avoidance and navigation cameras. Those are small cameras meant primarily for machine vision to support the autonomous navigation systems.

Just be patient, we'll get some beautiful, true color images soon enough. :)


It's a matter of file size and transmission time. As you pointed out, these are the first photos from a mission that has just landed (and which had a huge potential for failure, given the complicated and completely automated landing procedure necessary to land such a large robot).

Mars is a very long way away, and even with a very powerful transmitter and a highly-focused signal, the radio signal reaching the Earth is going to be rather low in power/amplitude. There is also a lot of radio-spectrum noise coming from all over space. Together, that means that the signal-to-noise ratio is going to be pretty low compared to short-range terrestrial transmissions. There are ways around that, of course, but they all include a rather severe restriction on the data bandwidth. High-resolution colour images take a relatively long time to transmit successfully; low-resolution grey-scale images are much, much quicker, and for an initial situational assessment, they are good enough. The big full-colour images will be coming, but they can wait a while.

  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ This article also says that the main cameras haven't been turned on yet. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 6, 2012 at 14:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ plus this photo is the first taken...taken thru a dust cover which, if you look closely, did a fantastic job of keeping dust from landing off the actual lens. Later images are much higher quality \$\endgroup\$
    – cmason
    Aug 6, 2012 at 19:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ no -1, because the information is true, however, as @StevenCunningham said, the reason we don't have better pictures is simply because the better cameras haven't been brought online yet. The cameras that provided the image in the screenshot will always be meh, they are there for autonomous navigation. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 6, 2012 at 19:13

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