NASA is extremely happy with images being sent back from the low-flying Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) using a new high resolution imaging system. The first picture is absolutely amazing.
The High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera flying aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has beamed to Earth its first image of the Martian surface, revealing in never-seen-before clarity Ius Chasma, a complex floor that is part of the giant canyon system Valles Marineris.
Within moments of the image being beamed back, researchers said they had identified many boulders, craters and channels.
"We are elated at the sharpness of the image, revealing such fine detail in the landscape," said Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory.
The HiRISE team, led by McEwen, has been working at top speed to prepare for the low-orbit images they'll get between today and Oct. 6.
Last March, the telescopic camera snapped test images of the Martian surface from a distance of 1,600 miles above the planet as the orbiter settled into a circular orbit around the planet.
The newest images will have 10 times the resolution of the ones taken last March. One of the objectives of the MRO mission is to search for evidence of long-standing bodies of water on the Martian surface, so having detailed images of the planet will be important. Other Mars missions have found signs that water once flowed across the Martian surface, suggesting the possibility of subsurface water and perhaps even surface lakes and oceans. But whether water stuck around long enough to provide habitat for life has remained a mystery.
The bus-sized MRO launched on Aug. 12, 2005 and settled into its final orbit on Sept. 11, 2006. It now circles near Mars' north and south poles and at times gets as close as 155 miles of the planet's surface. With the craft's six instruments, including HiRISE, team members hope to study the Martian surface, atmosphere and signs of underground water and ice deposits.