The landing of a cute robot on Mars really resonated with American popular culture this past weekend; and so the first few images Curiosity snapped have caught fire as well, including a blotch that was no longer there in later pictures.

Curiosity landed at 10:32 p.m. Aug. 5 PDT near the foot of a mountain three miles tall inside Gale Crater, which is 96 miles in diameter. Curiosity is the largest mission ever sent to another planet. Its 9 month, 350 million mile journey ended with 'seven minutes of terror' and no one knew precisely where it would end up or when it would get down to business.

200 milliseconds after the HazCam shutter opened it caught a hazy shimmer in the distance.

Actual size. Credit: JPL

Tiny, right?  It's not an iPhone, after all, but speculation was immediate about what it was.  A few hours later, higher resolution photos showed the blotch gone.  What was it?  Speculation ran from ideas that Curiosity had snapped a photo of its "backpack" entry harness or some other crash-landing in the distance, which would be "an insane coincidence," an engineer said, but most think it was some dirt on the lens or dust in the distance. We didn't have any crazy talk about a 'face on Mars' like we got with Viking in 1976 or Bigfoot, like in 2008.

Not even a John Carter reference, though that crappy movie made the quest to find Dejah Thoris in a castle less urgent:

Credit: Marvel Comics. Link: Science And Supermodels

The rover's mast carrying high-resolution cameras is deployed so we'll get higher-resolution images in the future but anything that gets the public excited is good for science. 

Read more on the Mars Science Laboratory mission page.

Bonus: A cool picture of Mt. Sharp in the distance: