Arresting views of Mars taken from high above the planet’s surface by the Mars Express orbiter have been stitched into a mosaic image of the planet’s surface.
Mars Express is a European Space Agency (ESA) spacecraft that launched for Mars in 2003, and since its arrival the orbiter has set records for data transmission and for being the first spacecraft to livestream from another world, besides its regularly-scheduled programming of imaging the remarkable features of the Martian surface from on high.
Mars Express’ images help clarify what Mars looked like in its ancient past, from evidence of volcanic activity to signs that raging rivers once carved canyons on the planet’s surface.
The mission is currently extended through 2026, and has orbited Mars over 24,000 times in its 20-year tenure. The new mosaic images are the latest, but certainly not the last views the orbiter will have of its adopted home.
Though the orbiter has the ability to image in colour, the opacity of the Martian atmosphere fluctuates, making it hard to pin down colours on the surface.
To produce the latest mosaic image — constructed from 90 images taken between 4,000 and 10,000 kilometres above the planet’s surface — ESA scientists colour-referenced each image to a model, resulting in a more vivid mosaic.
The grays and bluish colours on the surface here are basaltic sands, forged by Mars’ volcanic past. Sulphate deposits and haze cover the deep canyon of Valles Marineris, a system so large that if on Earth it would stretch from Sicily to the northern edge of Norway.
The orbiter usually images the Martian surface from much closer, but to produce such a sweeping mosaic of a swathe of Mars, the orbiter moved to higher altitudes. Its High Resolution Stereo Camera (HSRC) was used to capture the images taken during the 21,688th orbit.
The mission was designed to last one Mars year and it’s lasted 10 times that. Godspeed, you indomitable orbiter. Please keep sending us massive Mars postcards.
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