CRISM Opens its Eyes

This image shows one of the first regions of Mars measured after CRISM’s cover was opened. The image is part of the second multispectral survey strip, taken at 22:36 UTC (6:36 p.m. EDT) on Sept. 27, 2006. Only minimal processing of the data has been done at this early point in the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s mission. The strip crosses part of the north polar region named Olympia Undae, and stretches between 76.7 north latitude, 141.9 east longitude and 85.5 north, 115.8 east. From the left, the northern end of the image crosses layers of dusty and clean ice in the north polar cap. Moving south (right) the image covers dusty sedimentary deposits, dark sand dunes, and outlying polar ice deposits. The banner shown above has been rotated 90 degrees counter-clockwise and covers only the northernmost part of the full image. Click here for more information about the image and to view the full product. Credit: NASA/JPL/JHUAPL

CRISM team members (from left) Teck Choo, Melissa Wirzburger and Kevin Heffernan, CRISM Principal Investigator Scott Murchie, former APL Space Department Head Tom Krimigis and APL Civilian Space Business Area Executive Walt Faulconer celebrate upon hearing that CRISM’s protective cover had opened. Credit: JHUAPL

The most powerful mineral-mapper ever sent to Mars has opened its protective cover in order to search for hints of past water on the red planet.

The Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM), designed and built by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., is one of six science instruments aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. CRISM’s spring-loaded cover had been closed since the orbiter’s launch in August 2005, protecting the imager’s sensitive telescope optics from fuel residue and heat as the spacecraft eased into orbit around Mars. After turning on CRISM’s power and putting the device through a series of performance tests, operators opened the cover and verified that it had deployed properly.

"Everything went smoothly and our team is looking forward to our first images," says Dr. Scott Murchie, CRISM principal investigator from the Applied Physics Laboratory (APL).

CRISM will look for areas that were wet long enough to leave a mineral signature on the surface, searching for the spectral traces of aqueous and hydrothermal deposits, and mapping the geology, composition, and stratigraphy of surface features. The imager will map areas on the martian surface as small as 60 feet (about 18 meters) across, with the orbiter at its average altitude of about 190 miles (300 kilometers).

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter reached its science orbit over Mars’ poles on Sept. 11.
Artists’ illustration: Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

Offering greater capability to map spectral variations than any similar instrument sent to another planet, CRISM will read 544 "colors" in reflected sunlight to detect minerals in the surface. Its highest resolution is about 20 times sharper than any previous look at Mars in near-infrared wavelengths. By identifying sites most likely to have contained water, CRISM data will help determine the best potential landing sites for future Mars missions seeking fossils or even traces of life.

"It’s been a long 13 months since launch, waiting throughout the aerobraking phase until we could safely expose the instrument optics," says Peter Bedini, the CRISM project manager from APL. "The time was well used, though, as we completed the development of a very sophisticated system for collecting, processing and distributing the data we’ll soon be taking with CRISM."

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