A fresh batch of satellite images showcasing Mars' diverse topography is providing scientists with valuable information for upcoming missions to the red planet.
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has been documenting the planet's surface for more than a decade, but what makes this new set of images so notable is the sheer number of them! A vast quantity of data, including 1,035 images, has been transmitted back to Earth thanks to the optimal conditions presented by the current Mars opposition.
As science writer Samantha Cole explains in Popular Science:
"During opposition — as Mars and the sun are on opposite sides of Earth's sky, this year on May 22 — we get unobstructed communications between Mars and Earth for a few weeks. This time, that direct line of sight between Mars and Earth coincides with Mars' equinox, when the sun shines directly on the planet's equator, splashing light from north pole to south and giving the MRO its most complete views of the red planet. For the rest of the year, either the north or south pole is in constant darkness."
In addition to heightening our fascination with Mars, these sweeping images will serve as valuable maps in determining possible landing sites for future exploration missions to the red planet, including the NASA rover scheduled to launch in 2020.
The gorgeous satellite images resemble abstract paintings you might find in a museum or gallery — a comparison that shows just how interconnected the fields of art and science are. Continue below to see a few of our favorite images from the collection, or see them all on the HiRISE website.
In this photo, we see the cratered slopes of the canyon Melas Chasma, which is one of the possible rover landing sites for the Mars 2020 mission.
The starburst patterns seen in this image of the red planet's surface are referred to as "spiders."
Spanning 2,300 kilometers across the southern highlands of Mars, Tyrrhena Terra is home to the enormous Herschel crater as well as the ancient Tyrrhena Patera volcano.
This view of Martian terrain was captured in Peneus Patera, which is noted for its "scalloped topography."
This crater is found in Hesperia Planum, a vast lava plain that is characterized by its abundance of impact scars.