NASA’s Odyssey Orbiter Captures Astonishing Images Of Horizon On Mars

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A new image captured by NASA’s Odyssey orbiter highlights a view of Mars that will help scientists gain new insights into the Martian atmosphere. The panoramic view was stitched together using 10 images, creating the view of the Martian landscapes below clouds and dust.

NASA engineers spent three months preparing for the operation that used the THEMIS camera onboard the Odyssey orbiter, which just completed its 22nd year at the Red Planet. According to NASA, the orbiter captured the images in May of this year from an altitude of about 250 miles (400 kilometers), the same altitude the International Space Station (ISS) orbits the Earth.

“If there were astronauts in orbit over Mars, this is the perspective they would have,” remarked Jonathon Hill of Arizona State University and operations leader for Odyssey’s camera known as the Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS). “No Mars spacecraft has ever had this kind of view before.”

Unlike the similar views that are captured onboard the ISS, the view of Mars was more difficult to capture. This is because THEMIS is fixed onboard Odyssey and is typically pointed straight down. However, the team wanted a “more expansive view of the atmosphere,” which would give scientists a more in-depth look of the layers of water-ice clouds and dust in relation to one another.

“I think of it as viewing a cross-section, a slice through the atmosphere,” explained Jeffrey Plaut, Odyssey’s project scientist at JPL. “There’s a lot of detail you can’t see from above, which is how THEMIS normally makes these measurements.”

Because of having to rotate Odyssey nearly 90 degrees while ensuring the Sun would still shine on the spacecraft’s solar panels but not on sensitive equipment, the team decided to make the most of the opportunity. The mission also included capturing Mars’ moon Phobos from a different angle than captured previously. The new imagery provided scientists with insights into the composition and physical properties of the moon.

“We got a different angle and lighting conditions of Phobos than we’re used to,” remarked Hill. “That makes it a unique part of our Phobos dataset.”

The Mars Odyssey orbiter arrived at Mars in 2001 and has been used to create a global map of the many chemical elements and minerals that make up the Martian surface. Images captured by the orbiter, such as the most recent of the Martian horizon, will be helpful to scientists and those working on both Odyssey and the Mars Moon eXplorer mission.