NASA Mars Orbiter Photographs Spirit and Vikings on the Ground

Dec 05, 2006
NASA Mars Orbiter Photographs Spirit and Vikings on the Ground
This image from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbtier shows the landing site of the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit. The impact crater in the upper left portion of the image is "Bonneville Crater," which was investigated by Spirit shortly after landing. In the lower right portion of the image is "Husband Hill," a large hill that Spirit climbed and spent much of its now nearly three-year mission. The bright irregularly shaped feature is Spirit's parachute, now lying on the Martian surface. Near the parachute is the cone-shaped back shell, which helped protect Spirit's lander during its seven-month journey to Mars. The back shell appears relatively undamaged by its impact with the Martian surface. Wrinkles and folds in the parachute fabric are clearly visible. Credit: NASA

New images from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter show three additional NASA spacecraft that have landed on Mars: the Spirit rover active on the surface since January 2004 and the two Viking landers that successfully reached the surface in 1976.

The orbiter's high-resolution camera took a dramatic photograph of Spirit's twin rover, Opportunity, at the edge of a Martian crater two months ago.

Besides providing new portraits of these robotic emissaries, the images provide scientists valuable high-resolution information about the surrounding terrain at each site. This aids both in interpreting other orbital data and in planning activities for surface missions.

The new images are available online at hirise.lpl.arizona.edu . They are among the earliest from Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's primary science phase, which began in November.

"We know these sites well at ground level through the eyes of the cameras on Spirit and the Viking landers," said Dr. Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona, Tucson, principal investigator for the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. "Applying that knowledge as we view the new orbital images will help us interpret what we see in orbital images from other parts of Mars never seen from ground level."

The camera's view of Spirit in the midst of the "Columbia Hills" is quickly being put to use by scientists and engineers who plan the rover's daily activities, just as a comparable image taken two months ago of Spirit's twin, Opportunity, has aided that rover's work. A second image of the Opportunity site has now been combined with the first for a stereo view.

The view of Viking Lander 1 from the high-resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter reveals the spacecraft's back shell about 260 meters (850 feet) away and the heat shield nearly four times that distant. The lander returned the first view from the surface of Mars and kept operating for more than six years after its July 20, 1976, landing.

"The biggest surprise is that you can still see what appears to be the parachute after 30 years," said Dr. Tim Parker of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., whose calculations helped determine where to point the orbital camera for seeing the Viking landers.

Viking Lander 2, unlike Spirit and Viking Lander 1, had not been detected previously in images from NASA's Mars Global Surveyor. One feature that had been considered a possibility in an earlier image turned out to be the Viking Lander 2's back shell, about 400 meters (a quarter mile) from the lander easily discerned in the image from the newer, higher-resolution camera.

Parker is identifying some individual nicknamed rocks in the Viking-site images that are prominent in famous photographs taken by the landers, such as "Ankylosaurus," a rough rock about a meter (three feet) long near Viking Lander 2, and the larger "Big Joe" near Viking Lander 1.

NASA made imaging of the Viking Lander 2 site an especially high priority for Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to help in evaluation of candidate landing sites for NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander mission, being prepared for launch next summer. Phoenix will land at a far northern site, and the Viking Lander 2 site, though not as high-latitude as where Phoenix will go, is the most comparable site of any seen from the surface of Mars.

"The Viking Lander 2 site, with its combination of lander-based and orbiter-based imaging, gives us an important anchor for evaluating the ground roughness and boulder densities at sites where we have only orbital imaging," said Dr. Ray Arvidson of Washington University in St. Louis, chair of NASA's Phoenix Landing Site Working Group.

Source: University of Arizona

Explore further: Astronomer confirms a new "Super-Earth" planet

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Spinning up a dust devil on Mars

Dec 19, 2014

Spinning up a dust devil in the thin air of Mars requires a stronger updraft than is needed to create a similar vortex on Earth, according to research at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH).

Why is everyone vying for a piece of Mars?

Sep 24, 2014

The red planet is about to welcome a new visitor: India's Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) started orbiting Mars on September 24. But MOM is not the only new kid in town. The American MAVEN explorer arrived at ...

China reveals designs for Mars rover mission

Nov 14, 2014

For many space-faring nations, ambitions for Mars run broad and deep. Now, add China to the list of countries with Mars in their sights. News reports from China disclosed that country is considering a future ...

Mars, too, has macroweather

Nov 13, 2014

Weather, which changes day-to-day due to constant fluctuations in the atmosphere, and climate, which varies over decades, are familiar. More recently, a third regime, called "macroweather," has been used ...

Viking landers did detect organics on Mars

Jan 06, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- In 1976 the NASA Viking landers took samples of soil on Mars and tested them for signs of organic carbon. A reinterpretation of the results now suggests the samples did contain organic compounds, ...

Recommended for you

Kepler proves it can still find planets

Dec 18, 2014

To paraphrase Mark Twain, the report of the Kepler spacecraft's death was greatly exaggerated. Despite a malfunction that ended its primary mission in May 2013, Kepler is still alive and working. The evidence ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.