Emily LakdawallaNov 20, 2013

First image from India's Mars Orbiter Mission

India's Mars Orbiter Mission is still in Earth orbit, preparing to depart for Mars with a long rocket burn on November 30. The mission's scientists and engineers are taking advantage of the "layover" in Earth orbit by switching on and commissioning the instruments. Here, for your enjoyment, is the first image of Earth taken by the mission's Mars Colour Camera. It's so fitting that it's a look toward the mission's birthplace -- the Indian subcontinent.

First image of Earth by Mars Orbiter Mission
First image of Earth by Mars Orbiter Mission On November 19, 2013, from a 70,000 kilometers above Earth, the Mars Orbiter Mission took this photo of the Indian subcontinent.Image: ISRO

I can't imagine what it feels like to have built and tested and then launched a scientific instrument and then seen an image taken from space for the first time. Congratulations to the Mars Orbiter Mission and to the Mars Colour Camera team!

This photo was taken from a distance similar to Mars Orbiter Mission's eventual apoapsis altitude, so it should compare well to the kinds of pictures that the Mars Colour Camera will get of Mars. It shows roughly 60 degrees of latitude -- a picture taken from a similar distance at Mars would show most of the planet. Those photos are going to be super.

The photo was shared on Facebook today, and I believe it has been downsized from the original, so better is yet to come. The Mars Colour Camera has a 2000-pixel-square detector, but this image is only about 1400 pixels across. The caption released with the photo speaks of 3.5-kilometer-per-pixel resolution, but I think (based on comparing landmarks to Google Maps) that the image is actually closer to 5 kilometers per pixel. I also notice that two corners have little white triangles in them that make it appear that the photo has been rotated in order to put north up, and then cropped to make it square. I'm going to try to find out more about this photo and any further photos that appear on Facebook over the next weeks -- I'll let you know what I learn!

Meanwhile, the mission is gearing up toward its November 30 departure. (Articles speak of a December 1 departure, but that will be India time, and most of Mars Orbiter Mission's events have been early in the Indian day, so I am planning on looking for departure activities on November 30 in my time zone.) Here is a very detailed newspaper article with an interview of ISRO chairman K. Radhakrishnan, explaining the next steps for the Mars Orbiter Mission. It will take a 22-minute burn of the main rocket engine to send the spacecraft on its way to Mars.

Thanks to Pradeep Mohandas for the link to that story, and the tip about the Earth photo!

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