By NASA // December 1, 2023
The Odyssey orbiter captured clouds and dirt within the Crimson Planet’s skies, together with one among its two tiny moons.
WATCH: Laura Kerber, deputy venture scientist for NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter, explains how and why the spacecraft captured a view of the Crimson Planet much like the Worldwide Area Station’s view of Earth. Credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech
(NASA) – The Odyssey orbiter captured clouds and dirt within the Crimson Planet’s skies, together with one among its two tiny moons. Astronauts usually react with awe after they see the curvature of the Earth beneath the Worldwide Area Station. Now Mars scientists are getting a style of what that’s like, due to NASA’s 2001 Mars Odyssey orbiter, which accomplished its 22nd year at the Red Planet final month.
The spacecraft captured a collection of panoramic photographs that showcases the curving Martian panorama beneath gauzy layers of clouds and dirt. Stitched finish to finish, the ten photographs supply not solely a recent, and beautiful, view of Mars, but additionally one that may assist scientists achieve new insights into the Martian environment.
The spacecraft took the pictures in Might from an altitude of about 250 miles (400 kilometers) – the identical altitude at which the area station flies above Earth.
“If there have been astronauts in orbit over Mars, that is the angle they might have,” stated Jonathon Hill of Arizona State College, operations lead for Odyssey’s digital camera, referred to as the Thermal Emission Imaging System, or THEMIS. “No Mars spacecraft has ever had this sort of view earlier than.”
How It Was Completed
The explanation why the view is so unusual is due to the challenges concerned in creating it. Engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, which manages the mission, and Lockheed Martin Area, which constructed Odyssey and co-leads day-to-day operations, spent three months planning the THEMIS observations. The infrared digital camera’s sensitivity to heat permits it to map ice, rock, sand, and dirt, together with temperature modifications, on the planet’s floor.
It could possibly additionally measure how a lot water ice or mud is within the environment, however solely in a slim column instantly beneath the spacecraft. That’s as a result of THEMIS is mounted in place on the orbiter; it normally factors straight down.
The mission wished a extra expansive view of the environment. Seeing the place these layers of water-ice clouds and dirt are in relation to one another – whether or not there’s one layer or a number of stacked on high of one another – helps scientists enhance fashions of Mars’ environment.
“I consider it as viewing a cross-section, a slice by means of the environment,” stated Jeffrey Plaut, Odyssey’s venture scientist at JPL. “There’s a whole lot of element you’ll be able to’t see from above, which is how THEMIS usually makes these measurements.
As a result of THEMIS can’t pivot, adjusting the angle of the digital camera requires adjusting the place of the entire spacecraft. On this case, the crew wanted to rotate the orbiter virtually 90 levels whereas ensuring the Solar would nonetheless shine on the spacecraft’s photo voltaic panels however not on delicate tools that would overheat. The simplest orientation turned out to be one the place the orbiter’s antenna pointed away from Earth. That meant the crew was out of communication with Odyssey for a number of hours till the operation was full.
The Odyssey mission hopes to take comparable photographs sooner or later, capturing the Martian environment throughout a number of seasons.
Over the Moon
To take advantage of their effort, the mission additionally captured imagery of Mars’ little moon Phobos. This marks the seventh time in 22 years that the orbiter has pointed THEMIS on the moon to be able to measure temperature variations throughout its floor.
“We bought a special angle and lighting situations of Phobos than we’re used to,” Hill stated. “That makes it a singular a part of our Phobos dataset.”
The brand new imagery supplies perception into the composition and bodily properties of the moon. Additional research might assist settle a debate over whether or not Phobos, which measures about 16 miles (25 kilometers) throughout, is a captured asteroid or an historical chunk of Mars that was blasted off the floor by an affect.
NASA is taking part with JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Company) in a pattern return mission to Phobos and its sister moon, Deimos, referred to as Mars Moon eXplorer, or MMX. Odyssey’s Phobos imagery can be useful to scientists engaged on each Odyssey in addition to MMX.