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Mars On The Horizon
Hugh Bollinger

Mars On The Horizon

Mars Odyssey orbiter (credit: NASA)

NASA's Mars Odyssey mission, managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, has released a series of stunning images that show the curving landscapes of Mars from space. Ten JPL images were stitched together to create panoramas that show layers of clouds and dust with a completely new perspective of the Red Planet on the horizon. From that angle, the images provide new insights into the structure and composition of the Martian atmosphere. Odyssey snapped the shots from an altitude of about 250 miles, similar to the location the Space Station views the Earth.

According to NASA, horizontal views are uncommon due to the challenges of creating them. The JPL engineers required three months of planning before observations could begin using Odyssey's Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS), an infrared (IR) camera. IR is sensitive to variations in warmth allowing the imager to map ice, rock, sand, dust, and temperature changes on Mars.

Typically, orbiting satellite cameras are positioned to point directly downwards. To gain views of the horizon, the entire instrument had to be rotated, tilted, and placed at the proper angle to see Mars from that position. Researchers also wanted a more expansive environmental view of the water-ice clouds and dust layers on Mars in relation to each other. The new positioning will help improve their models for a better understand of how the Martian atmosphere works. All this newly gathered data will be vital for future Mars missions.


                                 Mars horizon from Odyssey THEMIS camera, 5-3-24 (credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU)

One of the THEMIS panoramas shows Olympus Mons, the solar system's largest volcano, on the horizon as never before seen. The image viewed from the new orientation exposed the entire shield volcano's base covering more than 370 miles, a comparable landscape the size of Arizona. The mountain rises to a height of 17 miles above the surface and almost touches the edge of space.

One of the mission's project managers at JPL said: Normally, we see Olympus Mons in narrow strips from above, but by turning the spacecraft toward the horizon we see it in a single image and how large it looms over the landscape. Not only is the image spectacular, it also provides us with unique science data.

                              Olympus Mons volcano horizon view Mars, 3-11-24 (credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU)

JPL produced a video on their latest images and how the spacecraft had to be maneuvered to obtain them. Location, location, location has always been a photographer's mantra and Odyssey proved that again. WHB


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