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HiRise to the Red Planet

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Newly Released Images

HiRISE images
First MRO HiRISE Image of Mars: Topographic Model from Photoclinometry.

Employees of the USGS Astrogeology Research Program celebrate the public release of the first images productively captured by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment(HiRISE) camera, which is one of six instruments on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).

"I am VERY happy!" said Alfred McEwen, former employee of USGS, Principal Investigator and chief scientist of MRO,while viewing the images. "They are sharp, clear, and beautiful!"

The HiRISE camera is the most powerful telescopic camera ever sent to another planet. It productively took four images of Mars on March 23, 2006. The actual launch of MRO took place August 25, 2005.

Astrogeology Research Program personnel are major players in The HiRISE Operations Center (HiROC) at the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, who are responsible for the majority of the ground data system work for the HiRISE instrument. Astrogeology's programming group is developing software , which will encompass tools for any person who desires to work with HiRise data. Other personnel are co-investigators, coordinators, and leads in varying disciplines that are involved in the observation planning, uplink, downlink, data processing, and instrument monitoring. For example, Randolph Kirk (Co-Investigator geodesy, geometric calibration, and topographic mapping lead) has applied a technique called photoclinometry (or, more descriptively, "shape-from-shading") on a subset of AEB_000001_0000_Red, to produce a preliminary topographic map which covers a portion of this first image of Mars obtained by the HiRISE camera on March 24, 2006. Photoclinometry reveals the details of the smallest topographic features resolved by the image. Elevations can be reconstructed from an image by noting how surfaces sloping toward the sun appear brighter than areas that slope away from it.

Anyone who has seen the newly released HiRISE images will concur that they are simply dynamic! Here is how the images are captured: The HiRISE camera takes the image, and then transfers it to the MRO spacecraft electronics. MRO then sends the image to Earth using radio waves. It takes 13 minutes currently for images to travel to Earth, (the distance between the Earth and Mars varies with time due to their different orbits around the Sun) since radio waves travel at the speed of light. NASA's Deep Space Network receives the image data on Earth using its antennas in California, Spain and Australia, which cover the whole globe. The DSN then sends the images to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who reassembles the images and processes them.

Although we space enthusiasts may have to wait six months for more images, while MRO aerobrakes, we can look forward to user-friendly web tools available to both the science community and the public to view and/or analyze the HiRISE images. One thing interested parties shouldn't wait for is to make an observation request. What's more exciting is that processed images will be released soon after acquisition to allow everyone to share in the scientific HiRise to the Red Planet!

Show me more newly released images.