Hubble captures stunning Martian portrait
The Hubble SpaceTelescope has captured a stunning image of the full disk of Marsprior to the Red Planet's closest approach to Earth in 11 years. Marshas been the focal point of numerous unmanned missions, and, if NASA gets its way, will be the first planet beyond Earth to be visited bymankind.
Hubble snapped the RedPlanet on May 12, 2016, at a distance of 50 million miles (80.5million km) from Earth. Displaying features as small as 20 – 30 miles (32 – 48 km)across, the portrait of Mars stands as tribute to the versatility ofa telescope that is often tasked with imaging some of the largest structures in the known universe.
The dull orange uplandregion of northern Mars known as Arabia Terra dominates the center ofthe portrait. Heavily cratered and eroded by the passage of time,this 2,800 mile (4,506 km) wideswathe of tortured terrain is believed to be among the oldestsurface regions existing on the Red Planet today.
Younger geologicalfeatures are easily discernible in the Hubble image. South of ArabiaTerra, vast regions of land darkened by exposed bedrock and theground-down remains of ancient lava flows stand as tribute to thevolcanic history of Mars.
To the right of theimage, partially obscured by bright cloud is a dark region known asSyrtis Major Planitia. We now know that the feature, which waspreviously believed to be a plain, is in reality a vast, low-reliefshield volcano. To the south of the volcano is a 1,100mile (1,770 km) wide ovalimpact crater known as the Hellas Planitia basin. It is thought thatthe basin formed roughly 3.5 billion years ago as a result of apowerful asteroid strike.
Mars is due to be in opposition on May 22. This is an orbital position inwhich two celestial bodies, in this case the Red Planet and the Sun,are on exact opposite sides of planet Earth. This period constitutesthe ideal period for imaging Mars, which is fully illuminated by theSun. While on average a Mars opposition occurs once every 26 months,this particular event will bring the Red Planet closer to Earth thanat any point in the last 11 years, passing at a distance of 46.8million miles.