Mars photographed in “true color” for the first time ever •

Twenty years ago, the European Space Agency’s Mars Express embarked on a journey to the Red Planet. Today, we’re celebrating this milestone with a breathtaking mosaic of Mars, showcasing the planet’s true, diverse colors and composition in incredible detail.

This stunning visual feat, made possible by the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) aboard Mars Express, is a fascinating deep dive into the Martian world, like you’ve never seen it before.

Marvelous Mars in true, full color

Typically, the HRSC captures the Martian surface from about 300 kilometers up, focusing on areas around 50 kilometers wide. However, this new mosaic adopts a different approach.

To encompass a broader view, the camera collected 90 images from higher altitudes, ranging between 4,000 to 10,000 kilometers. This method allowed the capture of vast regions, approximately 2,500 kilometers in width, pieced together to present a comprehensive global perspective of Mars.

While large-scale images like these are often used to study Martian weather patterns, their value extends much further. They provide us with mesmerizing views of the planet’s surface, highlighting variations in local color and contrast.

This new view, therefore, isn’t just about aesthetics. This incredible photo of Mars is a true and full color window into the planet’s diverse terrain and geological history.

Overcoming atmospheric challenges

The task of accurately rendering Mars’s colors from orbit is complicated by the ever-changing Martian atmosphere.

Dust in the atmosphere scatters and reflects light. This phenomenon often causes color shifts between images and presenting challenges in creating a cohesive mosaic.

But this time, the HRSC team innovatively referenced each image to a color model derived from high-altitude observations.

This technique preserved the natural color variations, offering us a richer and more authentic view of Mars than ever before.

Revealing true colors of Mars

Mars is often envisioned as a uniformly reddish planet, a characteristic stemming from high levels of oxidized iron. However, this mosaic reveals a more complex, true color palette that lies beneath Mars’ atmosphere.

Large expanses of Mars display dark, blue-toned hues, indicative of grey-black basaltic sands of volcanic origin. These sands, shaped and shifted by Martian winds, form extensive sand dunes and fields, particularly within impact craters.

In contrast, areas weathered by water exhibit lighter tones. Notably, clay and sulphate minerals, products of prolonged water exposure, shine brightly in these images.

Their presence, confirmed by the OMEGA spectrometer on Mars Express, suggests that liquid water once persisted on Mars, altering its landscape over time.

The discovery of these minerals in places like Mawrth Vallis, a former outflow channel, and Valles Marineris, underscores Mars’s dynamic geological past.

Mars Express: 20 years and counting

As mentioned above, Mars Express represents a pivotal mission in the exploration of Mars, initiated by the European Space Agency (ESA).

Launched in June 2003, this mission primarily aims to investigate the Martian atmosphere, surface, and subsurface, providing comprehensive data that has reshaped our understanding of the Red Planet.

Design and launch: The genesis

The design of Mars Express prioritizes versatility and efficiency. Featuring a high-resolution stereo camera, infrared mineralogical mapping spectrometer, and a subsurface sounding radar, the spacecraft is adept at capturing diverse data types.

The launch, aboard a Soyuz-Fregat rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, marked a significant milestone in European space endeavors.

Mission objectives: Unraveling Martian mysteries

The primary objectives of Mars Express are multifaceted:

  • Atmospheric Studies: It examines the structure and composition of the Martian atmosphere.
  • Surface Analysis: The mission maps the Martian surface, analyzing its geology and mineral composition.
  • Subsurface Exploration: Using radar, it investigates the presence of water ice beneath the surface.
  • Climate Investigation: The mission seeks to understand the Martian climate and its evolution over time.

Scientific discoveries: Revealing Mars’ secrets

Mars Express has made groundbreaking discoveries:

  • Water Ice on Mars: It confirmed the presence of water ice at the Martian poles.
  • Methane Detection: The spacecraft detected traces of methane in the Martian atmosphere, suggesting possible geological or biological activity.
  • Geological Insights: Detailed surface imaging has revealed evidence of volcanic activity and ancient water flows.

Despite facing challenges, such as the loss of the Beagle 2 lander, Mars Express has triumphed in resilience and longevity, far exceeding its initial mission duration.

The mission, continually extended, promises further discoveries. Mars Express remains a testament to human curiosity and our quest to understand our cosmic neighbor.

Mars Express’ legacy

In summary, as we celebrate this 20-year milestone, this full and true color mosaic of Mars stands as a testament to the mission’s achievements and a promise of the wonders yet to be discovered.

Mars Express stands as a beacon of European space exploration, contributing significantly to our knowledge of Mars and inspiring future missions. Its legacy will continue to influence our quest for understanding the mysteries of the Red Planet.


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