First Images Beamed Back by Mars Probe

First Images Beamed Back by Mars Probe
One of the first images from MRO's HiRISE camera: Craters with parts that look scooped out show strange debris piles in the centers. Craters only 20 feet wide (about 7 meters) are very sharp and clear. Strange channels with various levels of some type of flows are showing up in some images. (Image credit: NASA/LPL)

The first images from the High Resolution Imaging Experiment (HiRISE) aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) were returned to Earth early this morning to the delight of scientists waiting to see how the camera would perform.

Apparently it's working just fine.

"The first HiRISE images are in," wrote from the University of Arizona systems programmer Loretta McKibben in a blog early this morning. "And they are gorgeous! These images are sharp, clear and beautiful in the 'quick-look' or raw form."

"Incredible," said Candy Hansen, Deputy Principal Investigator for the project.

"I am VERY happy!" said from the University of Arizona researcher Alfred McEwen, chief scientist of the HiRISE camera. "They are sharp, clear, and beautiful!"

The pictures were taken late Thursday and are expected to be released by NASA today. will provide them upon release.

"We're seeing brand new details-things never seen before," said Chris Okubo, according to McKibben's blog.

It takes about 13 minutes for data to reach Earth, traveling at the speed of light. That's because the spacecraft and Mars are 13 light-minutes from Earth, or about 145 million miles away. The probe launched on Aug. 12, 2005.

The camera will take a second set of Mars images Saturday morning, but those will be camera test images not expected to be as interesting to the public. HiRISE images taken during two orbits will be the camera's only photos for the next six months.

After the test shots, the camera will be turned off while the spacecraft "aerobrakes"-a process whereby MRO will repeatedly dip into Mars' upper atmosphere to circularize its orbit around the planet.

The orbiter carries six science instruments, including a radar device designed to probe the internal structure of Mars' polar ice caps, as well as to gather information planet-wide about underground layers of ice, rock and, perhaps, liquid water that might be accessible from the surface.

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