NASA’s Reconnaissance Orbiter has reshaped our understanding of Mars since leaving Earth 15 years ago this week. The intrepid unmanned space probe studies temperatures in the’ thin Martian atmosphere, peeks below the planet’s desolate surface via radar and can even examine minerals from afar. However, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) is likely best known for the stunning images it beams back to Earth.
MRO carries three cameras among its many cutting-edge instruments.
The following images are just a glimpse of the amazing work performed by all three cameras aboard MRO
The Mars Colour Imager (MARCI) has a fisheye lens able to produce a daily global view.
The Context Camera (CTX) provides 19 mile-wide (30km-wide) black-and-white terrain shots.
Those images, in turn, offer context for the tightly-focused images provided by MRO’s third camera, the High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE), supplying the most striking images.
Able to zoom in on surface features at the highest resolution, the detailed, colour images from HiRISE have captured dramatic scenes of nature.
These range from epic avalanches, eerie dust devils and other surprising features of an ever-evolving landscape.
The camera has also provided images of other NASA spacecraft on Mars, like the Curiosity and Opportunity rovers.
And the probe has even flipped itself around to point HiRISE out at Earth and Phobos, one of the two moons orbiting Mars.
As of this month, HiRISE alone had taken 6,882,204 images, generating 194 terabytes of data sent from Mars since 2006.
A statement by NASA said: “The following images are just a glimpse of the amazing work performed by all three cameras aboard MRO.”
Among the images released on Wednesday is one revealing the sheer scale of regional storms ravaging Earth’s nearest neighbour.
NASA wrote: “Once or twice a decade, a series of regional storms will create a domino effect, lifting enough dust for winds to cover the surface in what’s called a ‘planet-encircling dust event’.
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HiRISE has also captured avalanches in action from its average height of 158 miles (255km) above Mars.
NASA wrote in an accompanying caption: “ Such cliffs reveal the deep time scales on the planet, exposing the many layers of ice and dust that have settled during different eras.
“Like the rings of a tree, each layer has a story to tell scientists about how the environment was changing.”
And in another eye-catching image in the collection, the immediate aftermath of an asteroid collision is documented in amazing detail.
The space agency wrote: “The crater spans approximately 100 feet (30 meters) in diameter and is surrounded by a large, rayed blast zone.
“In examining the distribution of ejecta – the debris tossed outward during the formation of a crater – scientists can learn more about the impact event.
“The explosion that created this crater threw ejecta as far as 9.3 miles (15km).”
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