NASA’s Odyssey orbiter has given scientists an extraordinary perspective of Mars, capturing a panoramic view of the planet’s horizon from about 250 miles above its surface. It took engineers three months to prepare the carefully planned operation, which used the Themis camera to reveal a panoramic snapshot of the Martian landscape dotted with clouds and dust. Similar to the awe-inspiring moments astronauts have had watching Earth’s curvature from the International Space Station, the 22nd year of the odyssey on Mars offers a unique Martian counterpart.
The series of images, taken together, not only presents a breathtaking portrait of Mars, but also promises valuable insights into the planet’s atmospheric dynamics. These images, taken in May, represent an unprecedented view that mimics the perspective of astronauts as they orbit Mars. Jonathan Hill of Arizona State University, who oversees Odyssey’s camera operations, emphasized the uniqueness of this Martian vista, saying, “No Mars spacecraft has ever seen a view like this before.”
NASA’s Odyssey orbiter: Unveiling an unusual view of Mars – Behind the extraordinary imaging operation.
Creating the unusual view of Mars required complex planning and coordination by engineers from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, the mission manager and Odyssey’s manufacturer Lockheed Martin Space. Over a three-month period, the team carefully strategized THEMIS observations, using the infrared camera’s sensitivity to heat to map temperature changes on Mars as well as various surface features such as ice, rock, sand and dust. Made. Although THEMIS is fixed in place and generally points directly downwards, the mission sought a broader perspective of the atmosphere to enhance models of Mars’ atmospheric layers, particularly water-ice clouds and dust.
To achieve this, the team rotated the orbiter approximately 90 degrees, a complex process that involved adjusting the position of the entire spacecraft. This ensured that the sun would still illuminate the solar panels and avoid exposure to sensitive equipment that could overheat. During this operation, which lasted several hours, communications with Odyssey were temporarily lost. Jeffrey Plaut, Odyssey’s project scientist at JPL, compared the process to “seeing a cross-section, a slice through the atmosphere,” providing intricate details that are not directly visible from an overhead perspective. The success of this operation opens the door to similar images in the future, with the mission aiming to capture the Martian atmosphere in different seasons.
NASA’s Odyssey orbiter examines the Mars moon Phobos.
This valuable imagery aligns with NASA’s collaboration with JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) in the Mars Moon eExplorer (MMX) sample return mission to Phobos and its companion moon, Deimos. Data from Odyssey’s Phobos imagery will assist scientists involved in both the Odyssey mission and the MMX project.