ExoMars Orbiter Reveals Its First Image of an Icy Martian Crater

Sunday, 29 April 2018 - 2:49PM
Space
Mars
ESA
Sunday, 29 April 2018 - 2:49PM
ExoMars Orbiter Reveals Its First Image of an Icy Martian Crater
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ESA/Roscosmos/CaSSIS
When the ESA launched their ExoMars mission in 2016, what most people remember was the Mars lander which malfunctioned and crashed into the Martian surface. That wasn't so good, but ExoMars also included an orbiting spacecraft which survived just fine.

That spacecraft is called the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, a collaboration between the European Space Agency and Roscosmos (the Russian space agency), and it's been recently adjusting its orbit around Mars to seek out methane gases which could be linked to "geological or biological activity". Essentially, it's trying to understand the Martian atmosphere while keeping an eye out for signs of life.   

Beyond this, the Trace Gas Orbiter has also started taking some impressive photos of the Martian surface, and ESA just released its first photo, a 25 mile (40 kilometer) stretch of ice-covered land in Korolev crater, a northern crater not far from Mars' polar ice cap. See it below:




The photo was taken from 248 miles (400 kilometers) above the surface, the Trace Gas Orbiter's new altitude following its orbital adjustment. To take the photo, the orbiter used its Colour and Stereo Surface Imaging System (CaSSIS) which is a very, very fancy camera.

Antoine Pommerol, a member of the CaSSIS science team, shared how happy his team was following the amazing first image that was sent back. He said the following in a press release from ESA:

Opening quote
"We were really pleased to see how good this picture was given the lighting conditions. It shows that CaSSIS can make a major contribution to studies of the carbon dioxide and water cycles on Mars."
Closing quote


More of these photos will likely be coming as the Trace Gas Orbiter continues its search for methane gas. Methane makes up less than one percent of Mars' atmosphere, but the fact that it exists there at all is a mystery we haven't solved yet, and so we're now looking for the source. 

The most common predictions are that the methane comes from geological chemical reactions, or possibly carbon-rich meteors, or leaking methane reservoirs beneath the planet's surface. However, methane can be connected to biological life, and the Trace Gas Orbiter intends to find out who keeps slipping methane into the Martian atmosphere.

The ESA plans to launch a new ExoMars rover in 2020 to work on the surface of the Red Planet, so they'll soon be back on track with their longterm Mars mission. Interestingly, NASA will be sending their own Mars 2020 rover around the same time.

Science
Space Imagery
Space
Mars
ESA
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