Hubble Team Releases Stunning New Image of Mars
On May 12, 2016, the Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) instrument on the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope captured this incredible photo of Mars, when the planet was 0.53 astronomical units (50 million miles, or 80 million km) from Earth.
This new image reveals several prominent geological features on the Martian surface, from smaller mountains and erosion channels to immense canyons and volcanoes.
The large, dark region at far right is Syrtis Major Planitia, one of the first features identified on the surface of the planet by 17th century observers. Prominent Dutch mathematician and scientist Christiaan Huygens used this feature to measure the rotation rate of Mars.
Today planetary researchers know that Syrtis Major is an ancient, inactive shield volcano. Late-afternoon clouds surround its summit in this view.
The oval feature south of Syrtis Major is the bright Hellas Planitia basin, the largest crater on the Red Planet.
About 1,120 miles (1,800 km) across and 5 miles (8 km) deep, it was formed about 3.5 billion years ago by an asteroid impact.
The orange area in the center is Arabia Terra, a vast upland region in northern Mars that covers about 2,800 miles (4,500 km).
The landscape is densely cratered and heavily eroded, indicating that it could be among the oldest features on the planet.
Dried river canyons — too small to be seen here — wind through Arabia Terra and empty into the large northern lowlands.
South of Arabia Terra, running east to west along the equator, are the long dark features known as Sinus Sabaeous (to the east) and Sinus Meridiani (to the west), which are covered by bedrock from ancient lava flows and other volcanic features. An extended blanket of clouds can be seen over the southern polar cap.
The icy northern polar cap has receded to a comparatively small size because it is now late summer in the northern hemisphere.
Hubble photographed a wispy, afternoon, lateral cloud extending for at least 1,000 miles (1,600 km) at mid-northern latitudes. Early morning clouds and haze extend along the western limb.
This hemisphere of the planet contains landing sites for several NASA’s Mars robotic missions, including Viking 1 (1976), Mars Pathfinder (1997), and the still-operating Opportunity. The landing sites of the Spirit and Curiosity Mars rovers are on the other side of the planet.
New Hubble image of Mars indicating major features on the face of the planet. Image credit: NASA / ESA / Hubble Heritage Team / STScI / AURA / J. Bell, ASU / M. Wolff, Space Science Institute.
This observation was made just a few days before Mars opposition, the point at which the planet is located directly opposite the Sun in the sky. This means that the Sun, Earth and Mars line up, with Earth sitting in between the Sun and the Red Planet.
The dates of opposition and closest approach differ slightly. For 2016, opposition will occur on 22 May at 07:10 a.m. EDT (11:10 a.m. GMT), while Mars’s closest approach to Earth will occur on 30 May at 5:36 p.m. EDT (21:36 GMT), when Mars will be at a distance of 0.503 astronomical units (46.78 million miles, or 75.28 million km) from us.
Mars’s closest ever recorded oppositional approach occurred in 2003, when it passed 34.65 million miles (55.76 million km) from us — the closest in 60 000 years.
This image of the Red Planet is a composite of separate exposures acquired byHubble’s WFC3 camera.
Purple (F275W), blue (F410M), green (F502N) and red (F673N) filters were used to sample various wavelengths. The color results from assigning different hues to each monochromatic image associated with an individual filter.