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NASA presents an astonishing billion-pixel tour of Mars

It's a guided tour -- from about 150 million miles away.

A stunning panoramic image from the Curiosity rover offers an incredibly detailed look at the dusty, lonely landscape of the red planet. And thanks to NASA's computer science geniuses, you can take a guided tour of the rocky landscape from your couch. 

Here's how to get the most of it. 

First click in the Photosynth player and drag the image left or right for a 360-degree look at your desolate surroundings (remember to keep your eyes open for the Martian rat). Then click the double rectangle in the bottom center of the image to take the panoramic image full-screen for the full mind-blowing experience.

Now click the links at the right side of the screen for some highlights of the spots Curiosity has already investigated, as well as the sites yet to be visited.

Start your trip at Mount Sharp, a 3-mile high rocky peak that the rover will eventually trek its way to. Zoom in on the L-shaped series of laser blasts that the rover zapped into the landscape, or the tracks left by the rover itself on its lonely tour.

Check out Yellowknife Bay, the area Curiosity first drilled into, or Rocknest, where the rover took its first scoops of Martian soil. 

The image, the first NASA-produced shot to cross the one-billion pixel mark, combines nearly 900 exposures taken of the windblown patch of dirt called Rocknest by cameras onboard Curiosity and shows details of the landscape along the rover’s route to Mount Sharp on the horizon.

“It gives a sense of place and really shows off the cameras’ capabilities,” said Bob Deen of the Multi-Mission Image Processing Laboratory at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. “You can see the context and also zoom in to see very fine details.”

The images were taken on several different Mars days between Oct. 5 and Nov. 16, 2012. Raw single-frame images received from Curiosity are promptly posted on a public website: mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/multimedia/raw/