The red planet Mars has an average temperature of about seventy degrees below zero. Iron-rich rocks cover the landscape and there is no water to be seen anywhere. Powerful windstorms blow huge amounts of sand hundreds of kilometers, changing the landscape from year to year.
NASA says the orbiter is seeing details in the shapes and layers of icy ground near Mar's north pole. Valleys, craters and dry streams are also observed. Clay is found in martian land. It is a type of rock that has to have been soaking for a really long period of time in water. The area rich in clay shows some of the best evidence for the conditions possibly favorable to life on ancient Mars.
Mars is being explored on its surface and from above. The computer and robotic technology of four space vehicles developed by the American space agency, NASA, has opened Mars to science.
NASA's Mars Rovers are land vehicles able to move and think for themselves. The two rovers are exactly the same. They have computer brains and it is easy to think of them as living things. NASA says they are similar in memory and ability to a well equipped personal computer. Six cameras on the body help each rover avoid dangers like rocks and holes. Two other cameras are placed on a structure that NASA engineers call the mast. The mast serves as the neck and head of the vehicle. It carries cameras that work together to give the rover depth perception.
With two cameras working together, a rover can tell how far away objects are. And it can judge distance between objects. It is called stereoscopic vision. Even the area that can be seen by one of these navigation cameras, its field of view, is similar to human vision. Two other science cameras give each rover color vision. And each also has a microscope camera able to produce pictures of soil and rock particles.
NASA hopes the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will show areas on the surface that have been shaped by running water. Scientists who study the geology of Mars are now seeing surface structures that could not be seen with other Mars spacecraft. And the best images are still to come. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter starts the main part of its detailed mapping mission this month.
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is not the only spacecraft observing Mars from space. The Mars Odyssey continues to take pictures of the surface. These images are being used to make improved maps. The orbiter will do this by taking pictures of the same area from different places in its orbit. Mars Odyssey has been in orbit around the red planet since October two thousand one. Since then it has provided the best maps of Mars yet.
Odyssey also shares a close link with the rover vehicles. The maps the orbiter provided helped NASA choose the landing area for both Mars rovers. And Odyssey is the main communications link between the rovers and Earth. NASA says the orbiter will support future landing missions on Mars as well.
Informations for this report is provided by Dr. Padathar Tin, David McAlary and Mario Ritter