Most Powerful Mars Camera Snaps People's Choice Photos
A composite of the first images of Martian sites suggested by the public as part of a participatory exploration program with NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The eight images were released March 31, 2010. Full story.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

NASA?s most powerful camera at Mars has beamed home the first photos of the red planet that highlight areas hand-picked by the public for closer looks.

The new Mars photos, taken by the best camera on NASA?s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and released Wednesday, include eight images culled from nearly 1,000 suggestions sent in by the public for red planet postcards.

"NASA's Mars program is a prime example of what we call participatory exploration," NASA chief Charlie Bolden said in a statement. "To allow the public to aim a camera at a specific site on a distant world is an invaluable teaching tool that can help educate and inspire our youth to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math."

Some of the new photographs of Mars include snapshots of surreal landscapes strewn with boulders and rocks, while others reveal collapsed sections of Olympus Mons ? the largest volcano in the solar system.

Martian ice sheets, dunes, mesas and other features highlight the other photos.

Scientists used the High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on the MRO spacecraft to take the new Mars snapshots. The photographs were taken as part of the HiWish project, which began calling for public suggestions in January and is organized by a science team running the HiRISE camera at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

"What we hope is that people become more interested in science and appreciate this opportunity to explore another world," said Alfred McEwen, principal investigator for the camera at the University of Arizona in Tucson. "We appreciate fresh thinking outside the box and look for things we may not have chosen otherwise. It's good to have a lot of eyes on Mars."

The MRO spacecraft is NASA?s youngest Mars probe, but the most prolific in terms of red planet photography and observation. It has beamed more photos and observations of Mars to Earth than all other missions to the red planet combined, NASA officials have said [MRO's data flood explained].

Since it arrived at Mars in 2006, the spacecraft has taken more than 13,000 photos with its main HiRISE camera. While that sounds like a lot, it is actually just 1 percent of the entire surface of Mars.

NASA is hoping the public will have some choice targets to start mapping the remaining 99 percent of Mars? surface. That hope, it appears, may be well-founded.

"Some people get into model railroading or Civil War re-enactments. My thing is exploring Mars," said James Secosky, a retired teacher in Manchester, N.Y., who suggested a target for HiRISE imaging after studying photos taken by other Mars-orbiting cameras that were posted online.

Another NASA probe, the Mars Odyssey orbiter (which is older than MRO), has taken nearly 500 photos of the red planet based the 1,400 suggestions sent to its science team from the public since 2009.

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