Mission to Mars beams back hi-res surface images of an eight kilometre deep chasm video

An artist's impression of the trace gas orbiter at Mars.
ESA/ATG

An artist's impression of the trace gas orbiter at Mars.

Despite losing its lander when it crashed on the red planet, the first cache of images and data from its orbiter has given the ExoMars mission reason to celebrate.

The images were taken by the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter from the same mission in which the lander, the Schiaparelli, crashed on the surface.

In October, the European Space Agency mission was dealt a massive blow when the probe lost radio contact with Earth less than a minute before a scheduled landing on the Martian surface.

The largest canyon in the solar system runs across the surface of Mars. Valles Marineris, the grand valley, extends over ...
NASA

The largest canyon in the solar system runs across the surface of Mars. Valles Marineris, the grand valley, extends over 3,000 kilometers long, spans as much as 600 kilometers across, and its depth extends to 8km.

READ MORE:
What happened to the Schiaparelli?
Why colonising Mars is a very, very difficult prospect
Europe's space probe Rosetta ends 12-year mission with comet crash
The rocks on Mars suggest it used to look like Earth. What happened?

The ESA team think the probe dropped from a height of between two and four kilometres and hit the surface at a speed greater than 300kmh.

But the new orbital mission - jointly run by the European agency and Russian counterparts - has given scientists cause for celebration.

The orbiter has run its first tests with a suite of instruments during a flyover on an elliptical orbit ranging from several hundred kilometres above the surface to 98,000km above the surface.

During its last orbit from November 20-28, instruments were calibrated and tested. The craft's orbit will be adjusted until it circles the planet in an almost circular orbit 400km above the surface.

The different capabilities of the imaging system were also demonstrated, with 11 hi-res images captured during the first close flyby on November 22. ExoMars' camera system is capable of taking colour stereo images of the surface and, potentially, features on the surface associated with atmospheric gases.

An artist's impression shows the separation of the ExoMars entry, descent and landing demonstrator module, the ...
ESA

An artist's impression shows the separation of the ExoMars entry, descent and landing demonstrator module, the Schiaparelli, and the Trace Gas Orbiter

A sequence of images was taken at a distance of 5300km and one sequence during the closest approach to the planet focused on an area called Noctis Labyrinthus to map the geological feature.

Ad Feedback

A video sequence was compiled from an fly-over of a region called Hebes Chasma, an 8km-deep valley trough in the so-called Grand Canyon of Mars, the Valles Marineris - a vast canyon system 4000km long spanning one fifth of the planet's circumference.

Other images included a deep trench on the flanks of a Martian volcano, Arsia Mons, which is 16,000m high, and close up shots of a large crater on the rim of a much larger crater.

Orbiter project scientist Hakan Svedhem​ said the spacecraft was performing well.

"We are extremely happy and proud to see that all the instruments are working so well in the Mars environment, and this first impression gives a fantastic preview of what's to come when we start collecting data for real at the end of next year.

"Not only is the spacecraft itself clearly performing well, but I am delighted to see the various teams working together so effectively in order to give us this impressive insight.

"We have identified areas that can be fine-tuned well in advance of the main science mission, and we look forward to seeing what this amazing science orbiter will do in the future."

One of the mission's main objectives is to gather data for an inventory of the gases that make up less than one per cent of the planet's atmosphere, methane, water vapour, nitrogen dioxide and acetylene.

Scientists are particularly interested in studying methane, which is also produced on Earth, mostly from biological activity.

Instruments on board the orbiter focused on carbon dioxide measurements and water vapour.

The next stage, which runs from January to November next year, involves slowing the orbiter to its final near-circular orbit 400km above the Martian surface.

During this "aerobraking" manoeuvre, the orbiter's solar panels experience small amounts of drag as it lowers into the high-altitude atmosphere, slowing the craft as it moves towards the planet and its final orbit.

 - Stuff

Ad Feedback
special offers
Ad Feedback