Emily LakdawallaMar 04, 2016

Mars Express VMC is back online

Mars Express' Visual Monitoring Camera is taking photos again! The camera has been powered off since last September, while Mars Express went through a low-power period due to its orbital path taking it through Mars' shadow. But the eclipse period is coming to an end, and the camera was turned on for the first time on Leap Day to take some lovely photos of Mars. I stacked a few of them and cleaned up the result to make this pretty portrait of the red planet:

Mars from VMC, February 29, 2016
Mars from VMC, February 29, 2016 After a long hiatus, Mars Express' Visual Monitoring Camera returned to work on Leap Day, 2016, taking a photo of Mars in late northern summer. The bright feature at the top is the north polar cap. At center right is the Elysium volcanic complex. Gale crater, home to the Curiosity rover, is visible to the south of Elysium. This is a stack of three VMC images, enlarged to 150% of the original size.Image: ESA / Emily Lakdawalla

That you can see all of the north polar cap tells you that it's northern summer; Mars' northern summer solstice was January 3. It's actually not too different from the season at which Curiosity arrived on Mars, not quite two Mars years ago. Speaking of Curiosity, you can see Gale crater in this portrait of Mars. Here's an annotated view:

Features visible in February 29, 2016 VMC image of Mars
Features visible in February 29, 2016 VMC image of Mars Image: ESA / Emily Lakdawalla

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