Friday, March 24, 2006

First HiRISE images of Mars

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has been orbiting Mars for about a week and is about to begin its 6 month long aerobraking maneuver. Before starting that, it is taking its first test images with the powerful HiRISE camera. This image was taken from about 10 times higher altitude than the final science orbit will be but still produces a resolution of about 2.5 meters per pixel! This image should serve to whet our appetites (but probably not as much as the science teams is being whetted!) for what is to come when the spacecraft reaches its science orbit. Imagine resolutions better than 30cm per pixel! The camera will be taking a couple more images before the spacecraft begins its aerobraking maneuver in which it will dip into the thin upper atmosphere of Mars to use Mars atmosphere to slow the spacecraft slightly at the low point of each orbit, but not so deep into the atmosphere as to cause damage to the spacecraft. In this way, the high point of the MRO orbit around Mars will gradually decrease until it is in a nearly circular Martian orbit.


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