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Honoring the Vision of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbit from above

Marking its 15th anniversary since launch, one of the oldest spacecraft on the Red Planet offered a glimpse of dust demons, avalanches, etc.

Since leaving Earth 15 years ago, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance orbiter has reshaped our understanding of the Red Planet. The veteran spacecraft studies the temperature in Mars’s thin atmosphere, traverses underground with radar and detects minerals on the planet’s surface. But perhaps what it became most famous for were the stunning images.

Among its tools, the MRO carries three cameras: the Mars Color Camera (MARCI) with a fisheye lens that creates a daily global view. The Scene Camera (CTX) offers black-and-white terrain shots 1

9 miles (30 km) wide. Those images, in turn, provide the context for the tightly-focused images provided by the MRO’s third camera, High-Resolution Imaging Science (HiRISE), which creates scenes. most prominent.

Capable of magnifying surface features at the highest resolution, HiRISE’s detailed, color-coded images captured impressive scenes of nature: avalanches, skyscrapers, and features. Another point of the landscape is changing. Cameras have also provided images of other NASA spacecraft at Mars, such as the Curiosity and Opportunity expedition. The MRO even flipped itself over to point out HiRISE on Earth and Phobos, one of Mars’ two moons.

As of early August, HiRISE alone has captured 6,882,204 images, generating 194 terabytes of data sent from Mars since 2006. The following images are just glimpses of the great work. made by all three cameras on the MRO, managed by the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.

Welcome to Mars

Parallel films showed how the dust covered the Red Planet

Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS

›Full images and captions

Dust storms are a common occurrence on Mars. Most are limited to small areas and not as dramatic as what is depicted in the movie. But once or twice a decade, a series of storms in the region will create a domino effect, lifting enough dust for the wind to cover the surface in the so-called “planetary dust event.” This, captured by MARCI in the summer of 2018, darkened the area above the Opportunity plane, stripped of its solar panels and ultimately led to the end of the mission.

A Martian Sky Scraper

A towering dust demon creates a zigzag shadow on the surface of Mars

Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Univ. of Arizona

›Full images and captions

As HiRISE pans swaths across the massive Martian surface, it occasionally discovers surprises like this towering sand whirlwind, taken from 185 miles (297 km) above the ground. The length of this tornado’s shadow suggests it is more than half a mile (800 meters) tall – equivalent to the size of the Emirate Burj Khalifa, the tallest building on Earth.

Avalanche warning

Avalanche plunges down a 1,640-foot (500-meter) high cliff

Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / University of Arizona

›Full images and captions

HiRISE has caught active avalanches. As the seasonal ice evaporates in the spring, these 1,640-foot (500-meter) high cliffs at Mars’ north pole begin to crumble. Such cliffs reveal deep time scales on the planet, revealing many layers of ice and dust deposited in different eras. Like the rings of a tree, each class has a story to tell scientists about the changing environment.

That would leave behind a denture

A strong, new impact pit

Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Univ. of Arizona

›Full images and captions

Mars has a thin atmosphere – only 1% of that of Earth. Therefore, there are less protective barriers to burn space debris. That means larger asteroids pass through the Red Planet’s atmosphere than that of Earth. CTX discovered more than 800 new craters during the MRO mission. After CTX discovered this, the scientists took a more detailed image using HiRISE.

The crater stretched about 100 feet (30 meters) in diameter and was surrounded by a large blast burst. When examining the distribution of the discharge mass – debris thrown out during crater formation – the scientists can learn more about the collision event. The explosion that created this pit threw the ejecta as far as 9.3 miles (15 km) away.

Face time

Wavy sand and a large sand dune

Image Provider: NASA / JPL-Caltech / University of Arizona

›Full images and captions

Land changes over time, so having a spacecraft on Mars for many years offers a unique perspective. Leslie Tamppari, MRO’s deputy project scientist at JPL, said: “The more we look, the more we discover. “Before the MRO, it’s not clear what on Mars actually changed, if any. We thought the atmosphere was so thin that there was almost no movement of sand and most of the dune movement happened in ancient past. “

Now we know that’s not the case. “Wrong color” has been added to this image to bring out certain details, like the top of sand dunes and ripples. Many of these types of terrain are migrating, just like on Earth: grains of sand, grains of sand, carried by the wind, crawl across the planet over millions of years.

Back to Atcha, Earth

Composite images of the Earth and its moon as seen from Mars

Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Univ. of Arizona

›Full images and captions

The MRO doesn’t just look at Mars. This combination, created out of four HiRISE sets of images of our Earth and Moon, is indeed the second time HiRISE has captured our home planet.

Scary moon

The larger of Mars' two moons, Phobos

Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / University of Arizona

›Full images and captions

Named after the Greek god of fear, Phobos is one of the two moons (Deimos, named after the god of terror, is the other), and it’s only about 13 miles (21 km) above . The Stickney Crater, the upper right and lower indentation of the moon, is about 5.6 miles (9 km) wide according to this HiRISE image. Despite its small size, Phobos is of great interest to scientists: Is it a captured asteroid, or a fragment of Mars that broke apart in a massive impact? A Japanese mission is scheduled to be launched to Phobos in the near future, and the moon has been proposed as a gathering place for astronauts before they reach Mars.

Mapmaker’s tools

The ultimate traversing map for NASA Opportunity explorer

Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS

›Full images and captions

Based on an image from CTX, this map shows Opportunity’s entire journey after exploring the planet for over 15 years. Both HiRISE and CTX are used by scientists to map landing sites for future human and robot missions as well as to chart the rider’s progress on the ground.

Take the trip

This animation shows the position of NASA's Curiosity detector as it travels 1,106 feet (337 meters) over an area of ​​Sharp Mountain

Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / University of Arizona

›Full images and captions

HiRISE is commonly used to photograph NASA spacecraft on the Martian surface, Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity as well as the stationary landing craft of Phoenix and InSight. NASA’s newest expedition plane, the Perseverance, is currently en route to the Jezero Crater. After it arrives February 18, 2021, you can bet that there will be some pictures on it.

The eyes have it

The appearance of dark patches on the Martian slopes

Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Univ. of Arizona

›Full images and captions

Good eyesight is required to find unique features on Mars, like repeating ramps. These black streaks appear in the same places at the same time of year. They were originally thought to be made of salt water, as the salt could allow water to be a liquid in Mars’s thin atmosphere. However, the consensus now is that they are actually created by dark sand that slides down the inclines.

The streaks were discovered by Lujendra Ojha, a college student at the University of Arizona, the company that operates the HiRISE camera, and is currently a professor at Rutgers University. “Sometimes you’re just looking at the right place at the right time,” says Ojha. “I was completely confused when I first found out about this, because I was just a student at the time – I wasn’t even on the planetary program yet.” Graduates work together with experienced scientists to uncover unique features like this in HiRISE images.

Want to see more? Scientists and the public may request specific types of MRO images.

For more information about MRO:



JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, oversees the MRO mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The University of Arizona, in Tucson, operates HiRISE, built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., in Boulder, Colorado. MARCI and the Scene Camera are both built and operated by Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego.

Contact Media News

DC Agle
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Alana Johnson / Gray tombstone
NASA headquarters, Washington
202-672-4780 / 202-358-0668
alana.r.johnson@nasa.gov / gray.hautaluoma-1@nasa.gov


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