Animation: Mars Express rising above the north pole
The "Mars Webcam" on Mars Express (otherwise known as the Visual Monitoring Camera or VMC) has just restarted sending images to Earth after a bit of a hiatus. Not being a science instrument, VMC gets the lowest downlink priority among all of ESA's spacecraft and instruments, so was crowded out through July by demands from Rosetta for Lutetia data and from conditions being unusually good for the other optical instruments aboard Mars Express. Last week they posted to the VMC blog the first few image sets I've seen for a while, showing Mars in a relatively high phase, but nothing out of the ordinary for VMC. Yesterday, though, I found a really nice set that I just had to animate, taken from a relatively low altitude over the picturesque swirls of Mars' north polar cap, which is brightly lit now by round-the-clock summer sun.
ESA / animation by Emily Lakdawalla
Mars Express flies away from the north pole
This animation is composed of 23 photos taken by the "Mars Webcam" aboard Mars Express, spanning a little more than half an hour on August 9, 2010. During the animation, Mars Express recedes from an altitude of about 4,100 kilometers to about 7,000 kilometers above the planet. The twisted canyons of Mars' north polar cap occupy the center of the view.