ExoMars returns first images from new orbit

Posted by ap507 at Apr 26, 2018 07:32 PM |
Leicester scientists involved in research to analyse breathtaking images of the Red Planet

Issued by University of Leicester on 26 April 2018

Image of Mars surface captured by the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter available here: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/pnoo6yctua55q70/AAAyNBJUssZfHrP97_d0714Sa?dl=0

The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter has returned the first images of the Red Planet from its new orbit.

The orbiter’s Colour and Stereo Surface Imaging System, CaSSIS, took this stunning image, which features part of an impact crater, during the instrument’s test period. The spacecraft arrived in the near-circular 400 km altitude orbit around the planet a few weeks ago. The camera system was activated on 20 March and has been undergoing tests in preparation for the start of its main mission on 28 April.

“We transmitted a completely new software version to the instrument at the start of test phase and after a couple of minor issues, the instrument is in good health and ready to work,” says the camera’s Principal Investigator, Nicolas Thomas from the University of Bern in Switzerland.

The example image released today captures a 50 km-wide segment of Korolev Crater, which is located at high northern latitudes. The bright material that can be seen on the rim of the crater is ice.

Scientists from the University of Leicester will be using the images captured by CaSSIS in order to characterise landing sites on the Red Planet in its new orbit.

PhD student Adam Parkes Bowen from the University of Leicester’s Department of Physics and Astronomy and Space Research Centre, and part of the CaSSIS team, said: “These are the first true colour images taken of Mars from orbit and open up a new view of the Red Planet. These images will be used in landing site selection and characterisation, especially for ExoMars due for launch in 2020.  For instance we will be using them in preparation for the final ExoMars landing  site selection meeting which will be held in Leicester in November. To aid in this effort, CaSSIS is also able to easily take stereo images, allowing 3d models of Mars surface to be created. Currently we are busy planning many of the imaging targets for CaSSIS.”

The image is a composite of three images in different colours that were taken almost simultaneously by CaSSIS on 15 April. They were then assembled to produce this colour view.

“Our aim is to fully automate the image production process,” says Nick. “Once we achieve this, we can distribute the data to the community quickly for analysis.”

The orbiter’s camera is one of four instruments onboard the Trace Gas Orbiter, which also hosts two spectrometer suites and a neutron detector.

The spectrometers officially began their science mission on 21 April with the spacecraft taking its first sniff of the atmosphere to seek out gasses that might be linked to active geological or biological processes. In reality, the ‘sniffing’ is actually the spectrometers looking at the way molecules in the atmosphere absorb or emit the Sun’s light: each has a unique fingerprint that reveals its chemical composition.

A long period of data collection will be needed to bring out the details, especially for particularly rare – or not even yet discovered – ingredients in the atmosphere. Trace gases, as hinted at from their name, are only present in very small amounts: that is, less than 1% of the total volume of the planet’s atmosphere. The camera will help to characterise features on the surface that may be related to trace-gases sources.

“We’re excited to finally be starting collecting data at Mars with this phenomenal spacecraft,” says Håkan Svedhem, ESA’s project scientist. “The test images we’ve seen so far certainly set the bar high as to what we can expect once imaging becomes routine.”

Notes for editors:

The image was released today in parallel with a press briefing at the ILA international air and space show in Berlin today.

Image caption:

Short: ExoMars images Korolev Crater

Long: The ExoMars Colour and Stereo Surface Imaging System, CaSSIS, captured this view of the rim of Koralov crater (73.3ºN/165.9ºE) on 15 April 2018. It has a scale of 5.08 m/pixel, equating to a width of about 50 km. The image is a composite of three images in different colours that were taken almost simultaneously. They were then assembled to produce this colour view. The image was taken with a ground-track velocity of 2.90 km/s. The solar incidence angle was 76.6º at a local solar time of 07:14:11.  

Credits: ESA/Roscosmos/CaSSIS

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