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The Faces of Mars

Posted By Bill Dunford

03-02-2014 10:49 CST

Topics: pretty pictures, amateur image processing, NASA Mars missions before 1996, global views, Mars

The full exploration of Mars began in earnest in 1976, when the audacious Viking mission arrived at the Red Planet. Previous spacecraft had carried out an initial reconnaissance, but Viking went much further. It brought not just one, but two spacecraft, each of which dispatched a complex laboratory to land on the surface. What's more, both of these Viking orbiters were designed not for a quick fly-by, but for a long-term mapping mission.

Viking 2 Approaches Mars

NASA / JPL / processed by Bill Dunford

Viking 2 Approaches Mars
Mars looms before the Viking 2 spacecraft as it approaches the planet in August, 1976.

Together, the Viking 1 and 2 orbiters captured many thousands of high-quality images of the surface. To this day, Mars explorers consider the data Viking collected part of a valuable knowledge base. Viking 1 spent more than four years in active service, and toward the end of its life it snapped hundreds of pictures during the early northern Martian summer.

The U.S. Geological Survey combined those images into a series of extraordinary mosaics. Instead of focusing on one region or feature on the surface, these new compilations recreated how the entire face of Mars would look to an observer in a spacecraft flying about 2500 kilometers above the ground. These USGS hemispheric mosaics were prepared in high resolution and somewhat enhanced color. The result is a crisp, clear studio portrait of a planet. There's a word that's highly overused when describing pictures from space, but these images are, in fact, stunning.

The first mosaic below is one of the most commonly-used pictures of Mars. It includes a couple of particularly striking features: the hemisphere-wide gash of Valles Marineris, and three towering volcanoes in Tharsis.

Mars: Valles Marineris Hemisphere

NASA / JPL / USGS

Mars: Valles Marineris Hemisphere
A mosaic of 102 Viking orbiter images of Mars, showing a hemisphere of the planet centered on the immense Valles Marineris canyon system. Prepared by the U.S. Geological Survey.

But it's not the only portrait in the series. Here are several more, some much less often seen. Together, they reveal the several faces of a world. For all the excitement of following the rovers as they pick their way carefully through an explorer's playground in Gale and Endeavour, it's refreshing to see a reminder of this planet's grand, stark sweep.

Mars: Syrtis Major Hemisphere

NASA / JPL / USGS

Mars: Syrtis Major Hemisphere
Mosaic of 100 Viking orbiter images acquired in 1980, showing a hemisphere of Mars focused on the Syrtis Major region (the dark area at the right). Prepared by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Mars: Cerberus Hemisphere

NASA / JPL / USGS

Mars: Cerberus Hemisphere
A mosaic of 104 Viking orbiter images acquired in February, 1980, showing a hemisphere of Mars featuring the Cerberus region (the large dark spot at the center left). Prepared by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Mars: Schiaparelli Hemisphere

NASA / JPL / USGS

Mars: Schiaparelli Hemisphere
A mosaic of images from the Viking orbiters taken in 1980, showing a hemisphere of Mars centered on the large impact crater Schiaparelli. Prepared by the U.S. Geological Survey.
 
See other posts from February 2014

 

Read more blog entries about: pretty pictures, amateur image processing, NASA Mars missions before 1996, global views, Mars

Comments:

Saint Aardvark the Carpeted: 02/03/2014 03:53 CST

I love the one of Valles Marineris, but that second one of Syrtis Major just took my breath away. Thanks so much for posting these!

Bill Dunford: 02/03/2014 10:09 CST

My pleasure! They're remarkable, even decades later.

Messy: 02/04/2014 07:55 CST

Nononononononono, the full exploration of Mars did NOT begin in earnest in 1976, when the audacious Viking mission arrived at the Red Planet. It began in 1971, when Mariner 9 went into Martian orbit. That was the REAL revelation.

Bill Dunford: 02/04/2014 01:02 CST

There's something about Viking's combination of dual, fully-equipped landers and long-term orbiters that led me to that. That said, I can't and won't deny how important Mariner 9 and all the other missions were.

Bob Ware: 02/04/2014 08:01 CST

Beautiful images! Thanks for posting them & thanks to the USGS for making them and making them available to the public! To bad Mariner 8 decided to stay home for an Atlantic swim instead of going to Mars with her sister Mariner 9. Look at what she missed! LOL!!

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