NASA released the first colour panoramic photo of the Mars terrain taken by Curiosity at its latest briefing on the rover's mission in Pasadena, Calif., Thursday.

The panorama is made up of 130 low-resolution thumbnail images taken by the rover's mast camera. High-resolution versions of the images will be transmitted to Earth later.

The wide shot shows the rocky Mars surface stretching out before a horizon of sand dunes, the rim of the Gale crater, in which the rover landed, and the base of Mount Sharp, Curiosity's ultimate destination.

"You see these beautiful layered knolls," Sumner said, "Those knolls are recording the history of Gale crater," Dawn Sumner, a NASA scientist working on the Mars mission, said during Thursday's news conference.

Grey-coloured dust streaks can be seen in the foreground of the shot from where the rocket engines of the rover's descent apparatus impacted the ground during landing.

The images were taken late Aug. 8 during the Martian afternoon and were brightened during processing because Mars receives only half the sunlight Earth does.

NASA works while Curiosity sleeps


Part of Curiosity's apparatus is seen with dunes on the Mars horizon in this newly released image from NASA. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA on Thursday said a team of computer programmers works 16-hours a day to develop commands and directions for the rover during its down time.

"We're doing all our work while the rover isn't awake," said Andy Mishkin, the mission's chief of integrated planning and execution.

Curiosity is a $2.6-billion project that NASA hopes will help unlock the mystery of whether life ever existed or could be sustained on Mars.

Using an array of tools, Curiosity will dig deep into the Martian soil in search of rocks that could possibly reveal signs of water, a critical element that might show life existed on Mars.

Going forward

See what NASA has planned for the rover's next few weeks.

Scientists believe Mount Sharp contains some of the best chances of finding such rocks.

In an earlier briefing, NASA said it will take at least six months before Curiosity even begins its climb up the mountain. 

Read more about the long journey ahead for the rover.