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Headshot of Emily Lakdawalla

Mars Orbiter Mission delivers on promise of global views of Mars

Posted By Emily Lakdawalla

29-09-2014 11:15 CDT

Topics: Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), Hubble Space Telescope, pretty pictures, Mars Express, Mars

Ever since I first learned about the capabilities of Mars Orbiter Mission's small payload of science instruments, I have been anticipating one type of data in particular: global color views of Mars captured in a single 2000-pixel-square frame. Just days after entering orbit, Mars Orbiter Mission has delivered on that promise. The Mars Colour Camera is one of three payloads on Mars Orbiter Mission that has been activated; Srinivas Laxman tells me that Methane Sensor For Mars and Lyman Alpha Photometer have also been switched on. Two more instruments remain; he's promised a detailed report once all five are activated. (Edit: Steven Clark reported that K. Radhakrishnan announced at the International Astronautical Congress that a fourth instrument has now been activated.)

Here is the first of, I hope, many many beautiful color views of our neighboring planet from Mars Orbiter Mission:

Mars Orbiter Mission's first global image of Mars


Mars Orbiter Mission's first global image of Mars
Mars Orbiter Mission captured this global view of Mars with its Mars Colour Camera on September 28, 2014, from a distance of 74,500 kilometers.

We're looking almost straight at Meridiani Planum, by the way, with the Opportunity rover's landing site located just a bit below the center of the disk. Toward the upper left of the disk, you can see some dusty-looking clouds. Thanks to the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter MARCI team's Mars weather reports, I can tell you more about those clouds:

Martian weather between 15 September 2014 and 21 September 2014: Regional storm activity picked up in the northern hemisphere, with large storms occurring from Utopia to Arcadia and arcuate-shaped storms following the Acidalia storm track into Chryse. Even in the caldera of Olympus Mons, a small spiral-type, "Lee" dust storm occurred this past week. Dust-lifting was less active in the southern hemisphere, but isolated local storms were observed in Noctis, Aonia, and Noachis. Diffuse water ice clouds were present over the Tharsis volcanoes, Tempe, and over the western rim of Hellas basin. Skies remained storm-free over the Opportunity rover site in Meridiani and the Curiosity rover site in Gale Crater.

Mars Orbiter Mission will only get these full-globe views when it's near the apoapsis of its orbit. But the way elliptical orbits work, the spacecraft will actually spend most of its time near apoapsis, so we should be able to get nice series of global views of Mars, at different phases and of different parts of the globe over time.

When the spacecraft is closer to Mars, we'll get cool images like this one, which was taken just two hours after Mars Orbiter Mission arrived at Mars:

Mars' limb from Mars Orbiter Mission


Mars' limb from Mars Orbiter Mission
Mars Orbiter Mission took this photo of the hazy limb of Mars on September 24, 2014, just two hours after entering orbit, from an altitude of about 8449 kilometers.

You can barely discern craters and surface features in this image because we're looking through so much Martian atmosphere. But the sharp-eyed folks at figured out what we were looking at. Coincidentally, though it's lost in the haze in this image, a feature named Indus Vallis is located within the image frame.

Location of the September 24, 2014 Mars Orbiter Mission Mars limb photo

ISRO / Daniel Machacek

Location of the September 24, 2014 Mars Orbiter Mission Mars limb photo

I am so excited about Mars Orbiter Mission's global Mars views. We used to get global views of Mars at every Martian opposition from Hubble, but their resolution was not as high, and Hubble has not been used to image Mars recently. Hubble's best image of Mars, taken more than 11 years ago, shows an almost identical hemisphere, and you can see that the Mars Orbiter Mission photo has superior detail:

Mars during the 2003 opposition

NASA, J. Bell (Cornell University), and M. Wolff (Space Science Institute)

Mars during the 2003 opposition
This photo was captured by the Hubble Space Telescope during Mars' closest approach to Earth in over 60,000 years, on August 27, 2003.

But Hubble is not usually so close to Mars as it was on August 27, 2003, so most Hubble images of Mars have even lower resolution. Here is the most recent true-color Hubble view of Mars, taken almost 7 years ago:

Mars from Hubble, January 2008

NASA / STScI / Keith Noll / processing by Ted Stryk

Mars from Hubble, January 2008
The Hubble Space Telescope snapped this image of Mars on January 30, 2008, about a month after the 2007 conjunction.

The only other camera currently capable of seeing all of Mars in a single frame is the Visual Monitoring Camera on Mars Express. This is a Webcam-like engineering camera that was included on the spacecraft for the sole purpose of monitoring the departure of Beagle 2. It was repurposed as a camera for public outreach and now regularly produces cool photos of Mars, often in unusual half-lit or crescent phases from high over the poles, but the camera's quality is not that great. (I love the photos anyway.) Here's a sample of what VMC can do:

Some Favorite Shots from the Mars Webcam

ESA / Bill Dunford

Some Favorite Shots from the Mars Webcam
Some of the most interesting views of Mars captured during the past few years by the Mars Express orbiter's Visual Monitoring Camera (VMC), the "ordinary camera in an extraordinary place," sometimes known as the Mars Webcam.

If the Mars Orbiter Mission does nothing else but return to us a variety of global images of Mars from different positions and phases, the mission will be a great success, as far as I'm concerned. It'll be a data set unlike any generated by any other mission, and the single-frame photos should find their way into lots of books and magazines, informing the public perception of Mars for years to come.

Edited to add: Image magician Ted Stryk worked with the Mars Orbiter Mission photo to produce a version that looks more like the colors we expect for Mars -- a subjective, artistic adjustment to the original colors.

Mars Orbiter Mission's first global image of Mars (processed)

ISRO / processed by Ted Stryk

Mars Orbiter Mission's first global image of Mars (processed)
Mars Orbiter Mission captured this global view of Mars with its Mars Colour Camera on September 28, 2014, from a distance of 74,500 kilometers. This version of the image has been artistically processed to more closely match the expected color of Mars.
See other posts from September 2014


Read more blog entries about: Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), Hubble Space Telescope, pretty pictures, Mars Express, Mars


Shreerang Kaulgi: 09/29/2014 12:07 CDT

The images returned from MOM are truly captivating. Like you said, leaving the science to the scientists, the images would also be of much interest to persons in other walks of life and not the hard core of the planetary science. Missions like MOM are for all. Everyone will enjoy his/her part of the interest. We should find them in school atlases also. Regarding the "First Reached There" comments from your past blog, does it really matter? Hundreds have scaled the Everest, but the last one still has the elation of being there. I sincerely hope that national and societal prides don't in the way of the science projects. Since I was a school boy, I have followed the science projects (of all walks) that came to my eyes without thinking who did them. Right from the Sputnik to the MOM, space missions have been captivating. We were glued to the radio when the moon landing took place and celebrated when Man set his foot on the moon. I hope these blogs generate more interest in other sections of the media, in more TV programs and in attracting young boys and girls to the science. Planetary Society is doing a Great Job.

Prasanna: 09/29/2014 12:09 CDT

Great picture and Great comparative analysis Emily. It is surprising how the amount of information we can progressively get with these images.

Margarita: 09/29/2014 01:55 CDT

Thank you Emily for another inspiring post about MOM. This photo is breathtakingly beautiful...

Jeff: 09/29/2014 02:14 CDT

Thanks Emily for the great coverage of MOM. On a somewhat different tangent, considering how elliptical MOM's orbit is, depending on where exactly MOM's orbital plane lies relative to Comet Siding Springs', MOM could well be the closest space asset to the comet as it approaches (or potentially be the farthest!). Do we have any idea how far away it will be from the comet on Oct 19th? I presume they do not have sufficient fuel to make a orbital modification like the other spacecraft to protect it. Has any word come back on if they plane to observe the comet?

Sameer: 09/29/2014 04:02 CDT

Beautiful image. I am trying to figure out exactly what we are looking at. The crater near to the right edge in this image looks like Huygens and you can just barely see the outline of Cassini. The crater closest to the center (sort of the to the lower right side of the center) is Schiaparelli. Is that correct? What is the weird looking thing in the clouds, seems a mini Saturn with rings. Is that a cloud or some surface feature covered with clouds? I am going by an old National geographic map of mars and that seems to be a crater just North of Deuteronilus Mensae but there is no name given.

ethanol: 09/29/2014 05:08 CDT

Jeff: That's a good question: I don't have the exact angles so it's hard to be precise, but you can get an idea about the geometry of the encounter in the video on this post: . I believe MOM's apoapsis is mostly towards the sun, but also somewhat towards mars's direction of travel (which would bring it closer to the comet). I would guestimate that mars and MOM's apoapsis will be roughly equidistant to the comet at closest approach? Then there is the question of timing, which is easier for me to answer. With MOM's orbital period, there are 8.42 complete orbits between injection (at periapsis) and the closest approach, which means MOM will be near its farthest point from mars during the pass. I don't know if it will be the closest to the comet, but it will certainly have a good view! Also, based on that early planetary society post, far sunward seems like a pretty safe place to be.

sssalvi: 09/29/2014 05:25 CDT

@ Jeff, MOM will be about 116000 kms from Sliding Spring @ closest approach. It is almost midway between periapsis and apoapsis. and the SS is almost perpendicular to the orbit of MOM at that instant. Whether ISRO would do the steering or not is not known.. but its a rare opportunity for MOM. I don't know whether images can be uploaded here or not .. else you may visit midway on the page link below

Vincent Pinto: 09/30/2014 12:34 CDT

Bravo! Excellent write-up. Especially the para starting "If the Mars Orbiter Mission does nothing else...". Can anyone help us get the orbital elements with respect to Mars? Helps to better perceive the directional plane we are viewing. Also, I suspect the MOM MOI was in an equatorial plane and so the orbit will also be in the plane, unlike MAVEN which had a polar MOI. Is this true?

Monstrim: 09/30/2014 08:14 CDT

Emily, What is that blue glow on the rim of Mars? Is it from sun-excited atmosphere? If yes, do you know from what gas(es)?

sonny: 09/30/2014 10:00 CDT

these global pictures of mars, gives more credence that mars could be made habitable for the human race.

sssalvi: 10/01/2014 01:47 CDT

@ Vincent Pinto MOM orbital elements: Epoch : A.D. 2014-Sep-30 02:00:00.0000 0.90941 Eccentricity 168.42205 Inclination 270.76135 Argument of Perifocus 352.97823 Mean anomaly 42034.79695 Semi-major axis

Vincent Pinto: 10/01/2014 04:20 CDT

Thanks, sssalvi! This should help a good bit. Could you also let us know the Longitude of Ascending Node? Thanks.

sssalvi: 10/01/2014 10:34 CDT

^^^ Longitude of Ascending Node 164.72776 Missed to add ;(

cirquelar: 10/01/2014 03:19 CDT

I added some place names to Ted Stryk's enhanced MoM image to provide some context and localization. The global image is centered approximately on Arabia Terra.

Jeff: 10/01/2014 03:55 CDT

Thanks ethanol and sssalvi for your responses. I just found this online article from the Times of India of what kind of science they hope to do as well as giving an explanation on why they have delayed announcing any of their plans for the comet pass

jeff: 10/01/2014 03:57 CDT

It might help if I had included that link for the Times of India article!

Prasanna: 10/04/2014 12:40 CDT

"This version of the image has been artistically processed to more closely match the expected color of Mars" I am curious how this is considered the "expected color of Mars" isn't the Hubble image also a post processed image artistically adjusted ? So how does on decide what is the expected color when compared to the raw images ? Considering the redder tinge that we see wrt Mars through a terrestrial telescope can we consider the Hubble image to actually be a less saturated postprocessed image ? Also the angulation wrt the Sun ,Mars and the satellite could also have a bearing on the color schems isn't it ? I am curious if someone can throw light on that.

Prasanna: 10/07/2014 08:21 CDT

New full disc image

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