The European Space Agency (ESA) has released new images of Mars showing the red planet in a new light. The stunning photos were taken by the agency's ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) satellite on April 15 as it moved into a new orbit.
The photographer of the images is the Color and Stereo Surface Imaging System (CaSSIS). CaSSIS’s primary goal is to ‘characterize sites that have been identified as potential sources of trace gases and investigate dynamic surface processes.’
The instrument, one of four aboard the orbiter will also be used to determine potential landing sites on Mars by examining the planet's surface and characterizing local slopes, rocks, and other possible hazards. The recent snaps taken during the CaSSIS test period show part of an impact crater.
Instruments tested and given the green light
According to the ESA, the camera was activated on 20th March and was tested for the start of its main mission on 28th April. Nicolas Thomas from the University of Bern in Switzerland is the camera’s principal investigator “We transmitted new software to the instrument at the start of the test phase and after a couple of minor issues, the instrument is in good health and ready to work," he says.
The unusual photographs show a 40 km-long segment of Korolev Crater located in the northern hemisphere of the planet. The bright smear in the photograph is actually the edge of the crater covered in ice.
“We were really pleased to see how good this picture was, given the lighting conditions,” Antoine Pommerol, a member of the science team, said in a statement. “It shows that CaSSIS can make a major contribution to studies of the carbon dioxide and water cycles on Mars.”
The team plan on releasing more images as they continue with the mission. The CaSSIS is one of four instruments on the Trace Gas Orbiter, it is also carrying two spectrometer suites and a neutron detector.
The spectrometers began their mission on 21 April. They are tasking with ‘sniffing’ the environment around Mars to understand its chemical composition. They do this by examining how the molecules in the environment absorb sunlight.
The mission will need a long time to gather its data as scientist expect to encounter very rare and possibly even undiscovered atmosphere ingredients. Some of the trace gases may be present in minute amounts such as less than one percent of the volume of the planet’s atmosphere.
The orbiters research team are particularly focussed on looking for evidence of methane and other gases that could be signs of active or geological activity. “We are excited to finally be starting collecting data at Mars with this phenomenal spacecraft,” said Håkan Svedhem, the satellite's project scientist.
“The test images we have seen so far certainly set the bar high.” The satellite is apart of the ExoMars mission, a collaboration between ESA and The ExoMars Roscosmos. The trace orbiter is step one in the mission, step two will include a rover and surface investigation planned for 2020.