Viewer’s Choice on Mars: NASA Takes Suggestions for Martian Photos
This new image of Mars taken by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows an optical illusion. What appears to be trees rising from the Martian surface are actually dark streaks of collapsed material running down sand dunes due to carbon dioxide frost evaporation. The image was released in Jan. 2010.
Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona.

If you have an absolute favorite spot on Mars, NASA wants to know. The agency may even take a snapshot for you with its most powerful camera circling the red planet.

NASA is taking public suggestions for photo targets on Mars using the HiRISE camera on its Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The ?HiWish? project, announced Wednesday, allows the general public to choose a location on Mars from a map on the Internet for HiRISE to photograph.

But there?s a catch. Merely asking for a photo won?t cut it. Requests must be accompanied with a title for the snapshot and a brief explanation of what scientific benefits may come from the Martian photo shoot. Suggestions also need to be categorized in one of the 18 science themes for the camera?s mission at Mars.

The highest-priority suggestions will zoom to the top of the list, project organizers said. There is already a backlog of thousands of targets requested by scientists and students waiting for HiRISE to photograph, they added.

?The HiRISE team is pleased to give the public this opportunity to propose imaging targets and share the excitement of seeing your favorite spot on Mars at people-scale resolution,? said HiRISE principal investigator Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona in a statement.

HiRISE, short for High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, is the workhorse camera for the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been studying Mars since it arrived in orbit in 2006. The camera has taken more than 13,000 photographs of the Martian surface during that time, but still only covered 1 percent of the planet, mission managers said.

The camera is responsible for some of NASA?s most stunning views of Mars, including a recent batch of images that included a photograph depicting dust streaks that looked uncannily like Martian trees. But the view was just an optical illusion, mission scientists said.

Nicknamed ?the people?s camera,? HiRISE is capable of photographing objects as small as a desk on Mars, with each image covering dozens of square miles. Internet denizens can mark their favorite part of Mars on a? map at the HiWish project?s Web site - - to request a photo.

?The process is fairly simple,? said HiRISE systems programmer Guy McArthur, also at the University of Arizona, who helped build the interface with researchers at NASA?s Ames Research Center and the SETI Institute. ?With the tool, you can place your rectangle on Mars where you?d like.?

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is the most powerful spacecraft ever to observe the red planet from orbit. Since its launch in 2005, the spacecraft has collected more photos and data of Mars than all other missions to the red planet combined, NASA officials have said.

NASA engineers recently revived the spacecraft from a months-long coma caused by a computer glitch. The orbiter resumed normal observations of Mars in December.