March 2006 Archives

News from Mars

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A few months ago I wrote about the launch of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which will map the surface of Mars with an amazing level of detail and send data to Earth at very high speeds, compared to the previous probes sent there.

Well, the MRO arrived last weekend, and the orbital insertion maneuver was successful. You can see its present location with the Solar System Simulator images. It is now in a highly elliptical orbit that takes 35 hours to be completed, but it will spend the next few months adjusting to a closer and more circular orbit, 300km above the surface.

And, to mark the occasion, you can now explore the red planet without leaving your seat: enter Google Mars. The whole planet seems to be covered (except maybe the poles; I couldn't find the polar caps) with three choices of views: visible, infrared and an color-coded elevation map. The resolution is not very high, except for some areas in the infrared view (such as the surrondings of Olympus Mons), but the views are great.

I really hope that these images get updated with MRO data when it becomes available. And, maybe, in 2015 we'll all be looking at Google Pluto...

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