To commemorate the 20th anniversary of Odyssey, the longest-running Mars spacecraft in history, ASA recently released a rare image of Mars. The image in false colour depicts dunes that surround Mars’ northern polar cap.
According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), these dunes cover an area larger than the state of Texas in the United States. The image, titled ‘Blue Dunes of Red Planet,’ was created by combining images taken between December 2002 and November 2004. These images were captured by the Odyssey orbiter’s Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) instrument, which has returned over 1 million images since it began circling Mars.
Two types of dunes can be seen in the image. The first set, which is yellow and orange in colour, represents warmer climates on Mars, while the pale bale set represents colder climates.
NASA said in a press release that the image covers an area nearly 30 kilometers wide and that the dark, sun-warmed dunes glow with a golden colour.
The pictured location on Mars is 80.3 degrees north latitude, 172.1 degrees east longitude, according to the space agency. NASA’s Mars Odyssey, launched on April 7, 2001, was sent to the Red Planet to map its composition. Over the last two decades, the Mars Odyssey mission has discovered vast amounts of water ice, paving the way for safer landings.
“Before Odyssey, we didn’t know where this water was stored on the plane,” says Project Scientist Jeffrey Plaut. Plaut is the director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, which is in charge of the Mars Odyssey mission.
Scientists have been able to determine what physical materials exist on Mars using Odyssey data. In fact, NASA has been able to map craters on Mars thanks to this steady stream of data.