To celebrate the 15th anniversary of the launch of the automatic interplanetary station Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, NASA has published a selection of photographs of the Martian surface.
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter was launched into space on August 12, 2005, from Cape Canaveral in Florida. Since then, it has sent nearly 400 terabits of data and continues its mission to Mars. Its primary task is to study the temperature of the atmosphere on Mars and collect information about its minerals.
All pictures were taken by the orbiter’s HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) camera, the angular resolution of which is 1 microradian. This kind of resolution allows the camera to distinguish Red Planet’s details of up to 30 cm in size from a height of 300 km. HiRISE made 6,882,204 images in total, which equals 194 terabytes.
There are three cameras aboard the orbiter, including the HiRISE camera, the Mars Color Imager (MARCI), and the Context Camera (CTX). All images are processed in the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.
Throughout the years, the orbiter has captured multiple spacecrafts like Spirit and the Curiosity rover. According to NASA, when the Perseverance rover reaches its destination in February, the HiRISE will capture it as well.
This summer, three missions set off for their journey to the Red Planet. The United Arab Emirates sent its first Hope mission to Mars in late July, aiming to bring in to Mars by February 2021. Following the UAE, China launched an interplanetary mission, Tianwen-1, to Mars a week later. And on July 30, NASA launched its Mars 2020 mission with the Perseverance rover to Mars, hoping to get it there by February as well. Three missions were planned for this summer because the Earth and Mars are now in alignment on the same side of the sun, which happens every 26 months.
“Since leaving Earth 15 years ago, NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has reshaped our understanding of the Red Planet. The veteran spacecraft studies temperatures in Mars' thin atmosphere, peers underground with radar, and detects minerals on the planet's surface. But perhaps what it's become best known for are stunning images,” reads NASA’s post in honor of the Reconnaissance’s anniversary. And it indeed made millions of breathtaking pics, so let’s take a moment to appreciate them: