NASA – During its examination of Mars, the Viking 1 spacecraft returned images of Valles Marineris, a huge canyon system 5,000 km, or about 3,106 miles, long, whose connected chasma or valleys may have formed from a combination of erosional collapse and structural activity. This synthetic oblique view shows Ophir Chasma, the northern most one of the connected valleys of Valles Marineris. For scale, the large impact crater in lower right corner is about 18.5 miles, or 30 km, wide.
Ophir Chasma is a large west-northwest-trending trough about 62 miles, or 100 km, wide. The Chasma is bordered by high-walled cliffs, most likely faults, that show spur-and-gully morphology and smooth sections. The walls have been dissected by landslides forming reentrants. The volume of the landslide debris is more than 1,000 times greater than that from the May 18, 1980, debris avalanche from Mount St. Helens. The longitudinal grooves seen in the foreground are thought to be due to differential shear and lateral spreading at high velocities. Image Credit: NASA/JPL/USGS
Vesta Sizes Up
This composite image shows the comparative sizes of nine asteroids. Up until now, Lutetia, with a diameter of 81 miles (130 kilometers), was the largest asteroid visited by a spacecraft, which occurred during a flyby. Vesta dwarfs all other small bodies in this image.
Asteroid Vesta also is considered a protoplanet because it’s a large body that almost became a planet and has a diameter of approximately 330 miles (530 kilometers). Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/JAXA/ESA
This Is What the Moon Looks Like From Space
On Sunday, July 31, 2011, when Expedition 28 astronaut Ron Garan aboard the International Space Station looked out his window, this is what he saw: the moon. And, he saw it 16 times. Said Garan, “We had simultaneous sunsets and moonsets.” For Garan and the rest of the station crew, this extraordinary event is a daily occurrence. Since the station orbits the Earth every 90 minutes, each day the crew experiences this about 16 times a day.
Long Way From Home
This picture of a crescent-shaped Earth and Moon — the first of its kind ever taken by a spacecraft — was recorded Sept. 18, 1977, by NASA’s Voyager 2 when it was 7.25 million miles (11.66 million kilometers) from Earth. Voyager 2 was launched on Aug. 20, 1977, 16 days before its twin, Voyager 1.
This photo was made from three images taken through color filters, then processed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Because the Earth is many times brighter than the moon, the moon was artificially brightened so that both bodies would show clearly in the prints.
Opportunity’s Heat Shield
This image from 2005 shows the remains of the heat shield from NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity, broken into two key pieces, the main piece on the left side and a broken-off flank piece near the middle of the image. The heat shield impact site is identified by the circle of red dust on the right side of the picture. In this view, Opportunity is approximately 66 feet (20 meters) from the heat shield, which protected it while hurtling through the Martian atmosphere.
In the far left of the image, a meteorite called ‘Heat Shield Rock’ sits nearby, as the sun reflected off the silver-colored underside of the internal thermal blankets of the heat shield. The rover spent 36 sols investigating how the severe heating during entry through the atmosphere affected the heat shield. The most obvious is the fact that the heat shield inverted upon impact.
This is an approximately true-color rendering of the scene acquired around 1:22 p.m. local solar time on Opportunity sol 324 (Dec. 21, 2004) in an image mosaic using panoramic filters at wavelengths of 750, 530, and 430 nanometers. Opportunity has now spent more than 2,680 sols, or Martian days, on the Red Planet. Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell
Opportunity’s View of the Rim of Endeavour
NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity used its panoramic camera to capture this view of Endeavour Crater’s rim after a drive during the rover’s 2,676th Martian day, or sol, of working on Mars (Aug. 4, 2011). The drive covered 396 feet (120.7 meters) and put the rover with about that much distance to go before reaching the chosen arrival site at the rim, called ‘Spirit Point.’
Endeavour Crater has been the rover team’s destination for Opportunity since the rover finished exploring Victoria crater in August 2008. Endeavour, with a diameter of about 14 miles (22 kilometers), offers access to older geological deposits than any Opportunity has seen before. This view looks toward a portion of the rim south of Spirit Point, including terrain that Opportunity may explore in the future. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/ASU
Close-up View of ‘Snowman’ Craters
A set of three craters, nicknamed “Snowman,” are seen in this image of the northern hemisphere of Vesta. This image was obtained by the framing camera on NASA’s Dawn spacecraft on July 24, 2011 from a distance of about 3,200 miles (5,200 kilometers). Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA
Rock Layers in Gale Crater
This oblique view of the lower mound in Gale Crater shows layers of rock that preserve a record of environments on Mars. Here, orbiting instruments have detected signatures of both clay minerals and sulfate salts, with more clay minerals apparent in the foreground of this image and fewer in higher layers. This change in mineralogy may reflect a change in the ancient environment in Gale Crater.
Mars scientists have several important hypotheses about how these minerals may reflect changes in the amount of water on the surface of Mars. The Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity, will use its full suite of instruments to study these minerals to provide insights into these ancient Martian environments. These rocks are also a prime target in the search for organic molecules since these past environments may have been habitable — able to support microbial life. Scientists will study how organic molecules, if present, vary with mineralogical variations in the layers to understand how they formed and what influences their preservation.
The smaller hills in this view may provide clues to the modern water cycle on Mars. They contain sulfate salts that have water in them, and as temperatures warm into summer, some of that water may be released to the atmosphere. As temperatures cool, they may absorb water from the atmosphere. The Mars Science Laboratory team will investigate how water is exchanged between these minerals and the atmosphere, helping us understand Mars’ modern climate. The hills are particularly useful for this investigation because different parts of the hills are exposed to different amounts of sunlight and thus to different temperatures. Curiosity will be able to compare the water in these contrasting areas as part of its investigations.
This three-dimensional perspective view was created using visible-light imaging by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and the High Resolution Stereo Camera on the European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter. Three-dimensional information was derived by stereo analysis of image pairs. The vertical dimension is not exaggerated. Color information is derived from color imaging of portions of the scene by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera.
The Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft is being prepared for launch on Nov. 25, 2011. In a prime mission lasting one Martian year — nearly two Earth years — after landing, researchers will use the rover’s tools to study whether the landing region has had environmental conditions favorable for supporting microbial life and for preserving clues about whether life existed. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona