A spacecraft equipped with the highest-resolution camera ever to orbit Mars has begun sending highly detailed images of a giant canyon on the red planet's surface, NASA said Friday.

The first image taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's powerful camera from low altitude shows rocks and features as small as armchairs, the space agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said in a statement.

The camera's target area includes part of the Valles Marineris, a canyon so huge that on Earth it would stretch from California to New York.

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"We are elated at the sharpness of the image, revealing such fine detail in the landscape," said Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona, Tucson, principal investigator for the camera dubbed "HiRISE," short for High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment.

The craft went into orbit around Mars on March 10. Its camera previously sent back test images, but from much higher altitudes.