The spring equinox of Mars this year is a particularly auspicious time for scientists who study the red planet’s surface.
On July 4th, both the planet’s north and south poles were exposed to sunlight, allowing us to capture images from all over Mars. It was also a time when Earth and Mars came closest to each other in the current 26-month cycle, lining up in a straight-line formation on one side of the sun. Because of this (relatively) close encounter, the Mars Renaissance Orbiter (MRO), the spacecraft that collects data from the planet, could send information back to Earth at its peak data transfer rate. This allowed scientists to create more abundant and clearer images of Mars’ uncharted territories than in any other month of the orbit.
The results are the images created by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera, the highest resolution instrument equipped on the MRO. The images were released on Aug. 3 on the project’s public catalog.
The images don’t reflect the natural colors of Mars. “The dust in the atmosphere affects everything we see, and we try to process the images to normalize that,” says Alfred McEwen, lead scientist of the HiRISE project and planetary geologist at the University of Arizona. “We stretch these images digitally taking the minimum values and maximum values to show the features.”