(Disclosure: Richard Leis is an operations team member located at the University of Arizona for NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE.))
Although the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and its High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) are less than two months away, spacecraft already in orbit around Mars continue to send back breathtaking images of the surface. Case in point is the image to the left taken by Mars Global Surveyor’s (MGS) Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC) of outcrops in Becquerel Crater. These outcrops are believed to be sedimentary layers and perhaps evidence for a lake in the crater in the distant past. Sediments carried into the lake by water channels settled out over time to create distinct layers. The number of discrete layers present in this image suggest that surface water played a role in shaping the martian surface for a significant period of time. While today Mars is a frigid desert, it may have been a much more hospitable and wet planet in its early history.
HiRISE will up the ante in scientific discovery on Mars by providing unprecedented resolution from orbit. The HiRISE science team will continue, among other priorities, to observe surface layering as evidence for water processes on ancient Mars. The orbital efforts of NASA’s MRO, MGS, and Mars Odyssey, ESA’s Mars Express, and periodic rover missions on the ground, represent the most exhaustive exploration of another planetary body.
MOC pictures of the day can be found on the Malin Space Science Systems (MSSS) website. MSSS also provided the Mars Color Imager (MARCI) and Context Imager (CTX) on board MRO. If all of these acronyms are giving you a headache, you are not alone: science team members experience the same symptoms. The list on the right under “More Information” provides full names for select spacecraft and instruments, their acronyms, and links to team websites.