Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Reveals Details of Mars
October 17, 2006
During its first week of observations from low orbit, NASA's newest Mars spacecraft is already revealing new clues about both recent and ancient environments on the Red Planet.
Scientists hope the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will answer questions about the history and distribution of Mars' water by combining data from the orbiter's high-resolution camera, imaging spectrometer, context camera, ground-penetrating radar, atmospheric sounder, global color camera, radio, and accelerometers.
Between September 29 and October 6, science instruments on the spacecraft viewed dozens of sites that reflect different episodes in Mars' history. The diverse sites provide a good test for the capabilities of the spacecraft instruments. The orbiter will begin its primary science mission phase in early November when Mars reemerges from passing nearly behind the Sun.
The instruments are seeing details in the shapes and icy composition of geologically young layering near the martian north pole. Other views offer details of a midlatitude valley whose upper layers have been eroded away, revealing an underlying clay layer that formed a few billion years ago, when wet conditions produced the clay. Observations of a southern-hemisphere crater show fine-scale details of more recent gullies, adding evidence that they were carved by flowing water.
"In this opening phase we have tested the instruments, and they are working perfectly," said Dr. Steve Saunders, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.. "The teams are getting amazing science data. They are ready to fulfill the mission's science objectives and to support other Mars missions. One image is already helping the Mars Exploration Rover team choose a route to explore Victoria Crater. Others will help guide the selection of a safe site for the future Phoenix Mars Lander."
For more information about these new details and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter mission, please visit the following site:
Last updated January 30, 2008