More Amazing HiRISE Views of Mars

HiRISE camera
The HiRISE camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter records the Red Planet's surface in unprecedented detail using a 20-inch (0.5-m) f/24 telescope.
NASA / JPL / Ball Aerospace
What do you get when you take a 20-inch (0.5-m) f/24 telescope with state-of-the-art digital detectors, put it in an orbit just 190 miles (300 km) above Mars, and let it click away for 4½ years?

You get thousands of close-up images of the Red Planet that both brim with scientifically useful detail and look amazingly beautiful.

Truth be told, the primary camera aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter — the High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, or HiRISE — has recorded so many astounding views that it's hard to single out the best ones. For example, the HiRISE team maintains a compendium of all captioned images to date, which as of mid-2010 totaled more than 900!

HiRISE image of Phoenix's descent
This carefully planned HiRISE snapshot shows NASA's Phoenix lander as it parachuted to the Martian surface in 2008. Click here for more information and to see a larger view.
NASA / JPL / Univ. of Arizona
Yet, for many planet-watchers, the potential of this camera's unprecedented imagery didn’t register until October 2006, seven months after its arrival, when the camera peered down from orbit and snapped a view of Victoria crater that not only showed the rover Opportunity perched on the crenelated rim but also the tracks it ‘d made to get there!

If that evidence weren’t convincing enough, some trick shooting by the HiRISE team on May 25, 2008, picked off the Phoenix descent capsule and its parachute in midair as they dove toward the craft’s landing site.

Working with the camera's scientists, we offered up a dozen selections in the September 2010 issue that represent the "best of the best." Unfortunately, far more great shots filled our list than we could publish.

So here's an encore assortment of HiRISE images to captivate your eyes and engage your curiosity. Enjoy!

Opportunity overlooking Victoria crater
The darker area at lower right is the interior of Victoria crater, which is about 0.5 mile (800 m) across. In October 2006, thanks to the amazing 1-foot (0.3-m) resolution of its optics, HiRISE was able to capture the Mars rover Opportunity perched on the crater's rim (white arrow), as well as the tracks it made getting there (blue arrow). Click here for more information and to see a larger view; click here to view the entire crater.
NASA / JPL / Univ. of Arizona


"Swiss cheese" terrain on Mars
This "Swiss cheese" pattern forms in the Martian polar regions (here in the south) when a relatively high, smooth surface layer of frozen carbon dioxide ("dry ice") breaks up into depressions. Most likely, this pattern of depressions forms as the ice sublimates (goes directly from a solid to a gas) as the temperature warms. Click here for more information and to see a larger view.
NASA / JPL / Univ. of Arizona


Landslide on Mars
On February 19, 2008, HiRISE captured a series of four landslides taking place along a towering cliff (in places 2,300 feet tall) on the edge of the dome of layered deposits centered on Mars' north pole. This false-color view shows the largest dust cloud, which is about 600 feet (180 m) across and extends about 625 feet (190 m) from the base of the steep cliff at left. The scarp, still capped by white CO2 frost along its top, has slopes of at least 60° in spots. The darkest deposits below form more gentle slopes, less than 20°, while the wavy forms on the flatter areas to the right are dunes. Click here for more information and to see a larger view.
NASA / JPL / Univ. of Arizona


Polygons in Martian ice
This image from the Gordii Dorsum region of Mars shows a large area covered with polygonal ridges with an almost geometric regularity. The ridges may have originally been dunes that hardened through the action of an unknown process. Groundwater might have been involved. Click here for more information and to see a larger view.
NASA / JPL / Univ. of Arizona


Gullies on a Martian crater's rim
Among the most hotly debated topics among planetary geologists is whether liquid water is flowing on Mars today. This image shows gully channels in a crater in the southern highlands of Mars. The gullies emerge from the rocky cliffs near the crater's rim (upper left), then create meandering and braided patterns typical of water-carved channels. North is approximately up and illumination is from the left. Click here for more information and to see a larger view.
NASA / JPL / Univ. of Arizona


"Inca City" near Mars's south pole
The image shows the effect of gas jets behaving almost like geysers. Translucent slabs of carbon-dioxide ice near Mars's south pole allow light from the springtime Sun (here just 8° above the horizon) to penetrate the slab and heat the surface below. The heat gets trapped (frozen CO2 is opaque at infrared wavelengths) and causes ice to sublimate into gas until sufficient pressure builds up to crack the ice. Escaping gas carries dust with it, which creates the fan-shaped deposits seen here. Click here for more information and to see a larger view.
NASA / JPL / Univ. of Arizona


Boulders in Noctis Labyrinthus
This image spans the floor and two walls of a pit in Noctis Labyrinthus, a system of deep, steep-walled valleys on the western edge of Valles Marineris. The valleys themselves, called graben, are trench-like features created during stretching of the crust (in this case, most likely following volcanic activity in the nearby Tharsis region. The light-colored layers on the valley floors might contain hydrated minerals (minerals with water bound in their molecular structure). Click here for more information and to see a larger view.
NASA / JPL / Univ. of Arizona


Earth and Moon seen from Mars
The HiRISE camera would make a great backyard telescope for viewing Mars, and it can also be used to view other planets. When HiRISE snapped this view on October 3, 2007, its home planet was 88 million miles (142 million km) away, giving Earth a diameter of about 90 pixels and the Moon 24 pixels. In view is the west coast of South America (at lower right), though clouds are the dominant features. The Moon image was brightened relative to Earth for this composite. Click here for more information and to see a larger view.
NASA / JPL / Univ. of Arizona

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