ESA's Mars Express orbiter captures stunning image of Martian landscape
During a plannedcalibration maneuver, ESA's Mars Express spacecraft has captured astunning shot of a huge swathe of the Martian environment. The image,snapped on February 25, captures a number of impressive featurespresent on the surface of the Red Planet, including the Martian southpole, an enormous basin and two vast channels.
The Mars Express probearrived in December 2003, having launched atop a Soyuz/Fregat rocketin June of the same year, and has since made numerous discoveriesthat have greatly improved our understanding of the Red Planet. Thislatest image was captured by the spacecraft's high-resolution stereocamera at a distance of 9,900 km (6,152 miles).
The Red Planet's icypolar region can be seen in the lower section of the image, shining instark contrast to the surrounding landscape. Mars' polar region issubject to summers and winters much like Earth's own poles. At thetime of the image, the Martian south pole was experiencing a summerperiod but during the winter the ice mass would reach far into thesurrounding smoother terrain.
The central region,known as the southern highlands, is heavily pockmarked by ancientimpact sites, while a large section in the upper left of the image istaken up by the Hellas Basin. It extends approximately 8 km (5 miles)below the Martian surface, and stretches across it for an impressive 2,200km (1,367 miles).
Also present (thoughhard to distinguish) in the image are the Dao Vallis and NigerVallis, two Martian valleys believed to have been carved out byflowing water in Mars' ancient past. Missions such as ESA's MarsExpress, and NASA's MAVEN spacecraft are attempting to unlock thesecrets of the Red Planet's enigmatic nature, ahead of a mannedmission slated for the mid-2030s.