NASA Spacecraft's Epic 10 Years of Mars: Photos
Spacecraft landings and water evidence are just some of the cool things NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has spotted in its 10 years after arriving at the Red Planet.
Ten years ago this week, NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter began a very special mission: to provide regular high-definition views of the Red Planet. Since arriving, it's spotted a lot of neat stuff -- spacecraft descending under parachutes, rovers on the surface and even dust devils. These are just a handful of some of the best pictures.
And by the way, if you have a neat location idea for MRO to photograph,
-- a public program for people to tell the spacecraft's
camera where to point.
NASA and the University of Arizona (which runs HiRISE) are used to precision operations. This was showcased spectacularly on Aug. 5, 2012, when the Curiosity rover landed on Mars.
safely to the surface of the Red Planet, starting a mission at Gale Crater that continues today. Previously in 2008, HiRISE also caught a view of the Phoenix lander under its parachute.
Several Mars spacecraft were on the lookout when comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring gave the Red Planet a close shave.
was acquired from as close as 86,000 miles (138,000 kilometers) from the nucleus. That's very close in astronomical terms, the equivalent of flying a third of the way to the moon from Earth.
Twelve years after the Beagle lander was supposed to arrive at the Red Planet, the MRO spotted the long-lost spacecraft (which stopped communicating during landing). The image shows that the lander made it to the surface
. It also arrived within its landing target, a circle with a radius of roughly three miles (five kilometers).
While MRO's primary target is Mars, occasionally it has caught glimpses of the planet's moons (Phobos and Deimos). In this March 23, 2008 picture,
-- as well as a bunch of troughs and crater chains that are likely unrelated to the impactor that created Stickney. The gravity of Mars is expected to tear Phobos apart in about 100 million years.
The NASA Phoenix lander was expected to last three months on the surface after landing in May 2008, but actually made it to about five. Then the spacecraft fell silent as sunlight diminished for winter. NASA kept trying to hail it until this 2010 MRO image showing damage to the lander. It is believed that
after likely hundreds of pounds of carbon-dioxide ice coated the spacecraft.
This shows a fairly common feature on Mars
, which form when winds tend to blow in one direction. It gives researchers a sense of where the dominent winds were when the features were formed. MRO is able to track seasonal changes on dunes such as these, which are near the north pole and get frosty in the winter.
Look at the brown smudge on the right side of this picture, then move your eyes left until you see a small gray dot. That's the Opportunity rover on the surface, near Victoria crater! This picture was taken by MRO in the weeks after arriving at Mars on Oct. 3, 2006. If you look carefully to the left of Opportunity and "around the corner" of the dark feature to the left and below the rover,
. The spacecraft also regularly
Even though MRO is in orbit around the planet, it can spot fairly small features on Mars --
! Based on the size of the shadow, it is estimated this dust devil was more than half a mile (800 meters) high, and roughly 30 yards or meters in diameter. It was spotted in the late afternoon in the north, during a time when Mars was far from the sun.
This image from Coprates Chasma is a clear example of
, which scientists believe could be evidence of flowing liquid water on Mars. While the atmosphere of the Red Planet is believed to be too thin for water to survive on the surface for long, ice melting could create temporary water flows that leave this dark evidence behind.
One benefit of MRO being at Mars at a long time is it can track change, such as this 100-foot (30-meter) crater that popped up. Roughly 200 craters happen a year when space rocks careen into the surface, but the
. It was formed sometime between July 2010 and May 2012, between MRO imaging campaigns of the region.