Astronaut’s View of Mars

Astronaut’s View of Mars

A topview, high resolution image looking down on Eos Chasma, part of Valles Marineris
Credit: ESA/Mars Express

The solar system’s largest canyon system slices through the face of Mars’ northern hemisphere near the equator. These images, taken by the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) on board ESA’s Mars Express spacecraft, show the southern part of Valles Marineris, called Eos Chasma.

The images were taken during orbit 533 in June 2004, and are centred at Mars longitude 322° East and latitude 11° South. The image resolution is approximately 80 meters per pixel.

Between surrounding plains and the smooth valley floor, a height difference of about 5000 meters has been measured. The plain to the south, above Eos Chasma, is covered by several impact craters with diameters of around 20 kilometers and drainage channels.

To the east on this plain, isolated regions with cracked surfaces become more prominent. The direction of flow of the drainage channels in this area of the plain is ambiguous, as the channels to the north-east drain towards the south-east, and those in the south-west normally flow to the north-west.

The northern part of Eos Chasma’s valley floor is a rough area with angular hills reaching almost 1000 meters. In contrast, the southern part reveals a smooth topography with distinct flow structures.

Perspective view. Credit: ESA/Mars Express

In some areas of the southern slope, at least two terrace levels can be observed. Some haze in the valley hints at the presence of aerosols (airborn microscopic dust or liquid droplets).

The perspective views, with height exaggerated by a factor of four, were calculated from the digital terrain model derived from the stereo channels. Image resolution was reduced for use on the internet.

The canyon system of Valles Marineris is the largest and deepest known in solar system; extending more than 4,000 kilometers (2,500 miles) and has 5 to 10 kilometers (3 to 6 miles) relief from floors to tops of surrounding plateaus As Agustin Chicarro, Mars Express Project Scientist said, these "investigations will provide clues as to why the north of the planet is so smooth and the south so rugged…."

Although many questions about the geological development of the Valles Marineris canyon have remained unanswered until now, the detailed HRSC image data may help to find some answers. Using HRSC data, scientists can focus on morphology – the evolution of rocks and land forms. They can also analyze the light reflected by the canyon to understand which type of rocks it is made out of.

Valles Marineris
Credit: Olivier de Goursac and Adrian Lark in cooperation with the MOLA Science Team

Mars Express has a primary mission to understand the atmosphere and volcanic effects using a combination of high resolution color imagery and spectrographic instruments.

Such oblique views, resembling how a person looking out a window might view across the broad Martian horizon, have a special appeal, according to Dr. Bill Hartmann, a member of the imaging team that works with the Mars Global Surveyor." There are a number of regions I’d like to see photographed in that ‘human’ oblique view angle, the way we are used to seeing the land from our airplane windows. I think that they inspire a broader, more holistic view that lets us see Mars in the context of our terrestrial experience (not as an alien "target"), and that in turn inspires new thinking, a new sense of relationships, and new questions."

"I’d love to see obliques looking down Valles Marineris , across some of the big frosty craters, across some of the lava flows, down big riverbed channels like Ares Vallis and Ma’adim Vallis, and so on", concluded Hartmann.

MER flight planning chronicled in the diary of the principal investigator for the science packages, Dr. Steven Squyres: Parts 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5 * 6 * 7 * 8 * 9 * 10 * 11 * 12 .

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