Mars Orbiter Sends Back Stunning Images Of Martian Surface Including One Of NASA’s Insight Probe


This remarkable ‘Dust devil frenzy’ image was taken in the Terra Sabaea region of Mars, west of Augakuh Vallis. This mysterious pattern sits on the crest of a ridge and is thought to be the result of dust devil activity – essentially the convergence of hundreds or maybe even thousands of smaller Martian tornadoes.ESA/Roscosmos/CaSSIS, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

Here’s Mars like you’ve never seen it before. From Martian dunes and dust devils to incredible craters and even a photo of NASA’s recently-landed InSight mission, a treasure trove of images taken by Europe and Russia-operated satellite currently orbiting Mars has just been released.

What is the ExoMars orbiter doing?

The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, at Mars since October 2016 by the European Space Agency (ESA) and Russian space agency Roskosmos, is actually looking for methane, but it’s also taking some fantastic images using its CaSSIS (Colour and Stereo Surface Imaging System) camera.

InSight is shown here as a slightly brighter dot in the center of the dark patch produced when the lander fired its retro rockets, just before touchdown in the Elysium Planitia region of Mars, and disturbed the surface dust. The heat shield released just before landing can also be seen on the edge of a crater, and the backshell used to protect the lander during descent is also identified.ESA/Roscosmos/CaSSIS, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

Hello Insight!

One image even features NASA’s InSight lander, which landed on Mars on November 26, 2018 to study the interior of the planet. It’s the first time a European instrument has identified a lander on the Red Planet. InSight is on the Elysium Planitia region of Mars.

This ‘Salty sulphates’ image covers a portion of the wall-terrace region of the 100 km-wide Columbus Crater located within Terra Sirenum in the southern hemisphere of Mars. The image was taken on 15 January 2019.ESA/Roscosmos/CaSSIS, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

ExoMars will eventually have its own Mars rover

The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (whose Schiaparelli lander crashed on descent in 2016) is actually only one part of a much bigger mission. Another part of ExoMars is a platform on the surface of Mars that will see a six-wheeled surface rover drill for rock samples. It will also have a panoramic camera and a close-up camera. In that way, it’s a little like InSight, which is currently trying to bore holes in the Martian surface.

The ExoMars rover is called Rosalind Franklin, after the DNA pioneer. It will launch in 2020 and arrive at Mars in 2021.

‘South polar layered terrains’ shows the edge of a layered mound in Burroughs crater on Mars. It is located about 200 km to the northwest of the northernmost edge of the planet’s south polar ice cap.ESA/Roscosmos/CaSSIS, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

Is ExoMars working with InSight?

Yes. It’s monitoring the surface of Mars around InSight, and will help search for impact sites is InSight detects any meteorite impacts during its mission. “The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter is [also] being used to relay data from InSight to Earth,” says Nicolas Thomas, CaSSISPrincipal Investigator, from the University of Bern in Switzerland. “Because of this function, to avoid uncertainties in communications, we had not been able to point the camera towards the landing site so far — we had to wait until the landing site passed directly under the spacecraft to get this image.”

TGO will also act as the data relay for the ExoMars rover when it arrives at Mars in 2021.

This image of a 4 km-wide crater was taken on 18 November 2018. This slice of Mars sits just to the northeast of largest well-preserved impact basin on Mars, Hellas, in the planet’s southern highlands.ESA/Roscosmos/CaSSIS, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

The entire ExoMars ‘treasure trove’

“The InSight landing site image is just one of many really high-quality images that we have been receiving,” said Nicolas. “All of the images we’re sharing today represent some of the best from the last few months.”

You can find the complete showcase of all of the ExoMars orbiter’s images here.

Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes

Follow me on Twitter @jamieacarter@TheNextEclipse or read my other Forbes articles via my profile page

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