Mars in color and with new details

Der Mars in Farbe Bildquelle: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin/G. Michael CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO Copy
Der Mars in Farbe Bildquelle: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin/G. Michael CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO Copyright Hinweis: Wo ausdrücklich angegeben, sind die Bilder unter der Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 IGO (CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO) Lizenz lizenziert. Der Nutzer darf sie ohne ausdrückliche Genehmigung vervielfältigen, verbreiten, anpassen, Übersetzen und öffentlich aufführen, sofern der Inhalt mit der Quellenangabe ’ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, G. Michael’ versehen wird, ein direkter Link zum Lizenztext angegeben wird und deutlich angegeben wird, ob Änderungen am ursprünglichen Inhalt vorgenommen wurden. Anpassungen/Übersetzungen/Derivate müssen unter denselben Lizenzbedingungen wie diese Veröffentlichung verbreitet werden.

20 Years of the Mars Express Spacecraft: Planetologists at Freie Universität Berlin Publish Global Color Mosaic of Mars with Never Before Seen Details

Exactly 20 years ago, the European space probe ,,Mars Express" was launched to Earth’s "red" neighboring planet. It delivers important images and data from which, among other things, statements about the composition and climate history can be derived. Mars Express is considered one of the most successful space missions ever sent to Earth’s neighboring planet. On board the probe is the German High Resolution Stereo Camera (HSRC), which was developed at the German Aerospace Center (DLR). To mark the 20th anniversary of the spacecraft launch, planetary scientists at Freie Universität Berlin have now published a new global image mosaic of Mars with never-before-seen surface details.

The images taken by the German camera system offer an insight into the diverse composition of the surface materials of Earth’s supposedly red neighboring planet. In their totality of color information, the images are unique to date, emphasize the researchers from the Institute of Geosciences, Department of Planetary Sciences and Remote Sensing. The research project at Freie Universität Berlin is made possible by support from DLR under grant 50 OO 2204 on behalf of the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Climate Protection.

Since its launch on June 2, 2003, the Mars Express spacecraft has been continuously delivering images. The HRSC’s data stream has yielded a wealth of new insights in recent years. Physicist Gerhard Neukum, who died in 2014, led the development of the HRSC, which is designed to provide global mapping of Mars in color and stereo and at a high resolution of 12 meters per pixel. The HRSC was first installed on the Russian Mars 96 probe, which unfortunately failed to leave Earth orbit after launch and burned up in the atmosphere. But Gerhard Neukum kept going; as director of the DLR Institute of Planetary Research in Berlin Adlershof, he became the key proponent for the European Space Agency’s (ESA) first research probe sent to another planet. In 2002, Gerhard Neukum moved to the Free University of Berlin as a professor, where he reestablished the Department of Planetary Sciences and Remote Sensing.

Mars in color with never before seen details

For the usual surface images, the HRSC normally photographs Mars from an altitude of about 300 kilometers, around the point where the elliptical orbit of the Mars Express satellite is closest to the planet. The resulting views of the Martian surface have a spatial resolution of up to 12.5 meters per pixel and cover an area about 50 kilometers wide. Thanks to its four color channels (red, green, blue, infrared) and five panchromatic nadir, stereo and photometry channels, the stereo camera is able to represent Mars not only in three dimensions, but also in color.

The new global data product now presented used 90 individual images taken from higher altitudes (roughly between 4000 and 10,000 km) above the surface of Mars, covering areas with an average width of about 2500 kilometers at lower spatial resolution (between 200 and 800 m/px).

The global view of Mars now shown has a spatial resolution of 2 kilometers per pixel and reveals an unprecedented variety and detail of colors on the Martian surface. At the same time, the image provides information about the composition of the planet’s surface.

It is generally known that most of the surface of Mars is reddish in color, which is due to the high proportion of oxidized iron in the dust on the surface and has earned it the nickname "Red Planet". With the new images or data product, it is immediately noticeable that no small portion of Mars is rather dark, bluish, in color. In fact, these are grayish-black sands, which are of volcanic origin and form extensive dark sand layers on Mars, but above all have been piled up by the wind to form imposing sand dunes or huge dune fields on the floor of impact craters. These unweathered sands are composed of dark, basaltic minerals that also make up volcanic lava on Earth. (cxm)

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