A few hours ago, NASA's HiRISE team announced that it had acquired an image of Curiosity during its epic descent to the Martian surface. That image was originally scheduled to be released at NASA's morning press conference, scheduled for 9:00 am PT, but Spaceflight 101 and Discover magazine are reporting that the image of Curiosity has been leaked. Here is that image, which shows the rover descending toward the surface of the planet via its massive supersonic parachute.
To be clear: this is not a model, a simulation, or an artist's rendering. This is an actual photograph of the actual rover, descending on its actual freaking parachute, on a planet hundreds of millions of miles away. It was photographed from an entirely separate spacecraft that is currently orbiting Mars using HiRISE, the most powerful camera we've ever sent to another planet. It looks pretty convincing to us, but we'll have to wait until the press conference to see if it's the real deal.
UPDATE: CONFIRMED! According to Sarah Milkovich, science systems engineer for Curiosity & MRO HiRISE, "this image was taken 6 minutes after MSL entered the atmosphere":
"You can see the lines on the parachute, you can see the hole in the top there," explains Milkovich. The inset image in the picture featured here "has been stretched differently so that you can see the parachute clearly without saturation... HiRISE has taken over 120 pictures of Gale [in preparation for Curiosity's arrival] but I really think this is the coolest one."
We agree. HiRISE scientists had previously predicted a 60% chance of capturing a photo of MSL during its descent to the Martian surface. A HUGE congratulations to HiRISE Principle Investigator Alfred McEwen, and the rest of the HiRISE team. What a fantastic achievement.