On October 19, two European Space Agency spacecrafts arrived at Mars, correct on schedule. But while 1 crash-landed on the red planet’s surface (ESA scientists are nevertheless attempting to figure out what happened to poor ol’ Schiaparelli), the other safely inserted itself into orbit. And last week, the ExoMars orbiter sent house its initial images.
An onboard camera known as CaSSIS—Color and Stereo Surface Imaging System—snapped these pics. In the past weeks, it has blinked on the web for just a few hours at a time, taking experimental shots, like a newbie art student pointing her camera at nothing in particular. This is in advance of the orbiter’s major job: sniffing out and cataloguing trace gases like methane, a possible indication of life. Right after ExoMars’ other instruments recognize a gas, it’s CaSSIS’s job to look around on the Martian surface to figure out what supply might’ve dealt it.
CaSSIS powered up for the 1st time in space for a fully-configured testing phase and generally, items appear quite good. The scientists necessary to know whether almost everything worked: how swiftly the camera could capture images, how fast the telescope rotated, whether or not the photos overlapped properly so they could be stitched together. The camera was a lot a lot more sensitive to light than they expected—which was a nice surprise, says Antoine Pommerol, a planetary scientist at the University of Bern in Switzerland. And CaSSIS has excellent, sharp focus, which you can see in the images. But sometimes, the scientists located, the camera’s aim is off: a brief lag implies it may well miss a particular function on the surface that it’s attempting to capture.
CaSSIS isn’t as higher-res as some cameras on other Mars spacecraft (like NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, for instance), but it has other capabilities. For one, it comes equipped with 4 different color filters, which let scientists to tease out the mineralogy of the surface, telling a single iron-based mineral from one more, or regardless of whether an location is rife with olivine or just has high clay content material. And CaSSIS requires stereo images, which lets researchers assemble the pictures to reconstruct particular areas in 3D. That’s helpful for keeping track of Mars’s numerous slopes, which can slump since of ice condensing or subliming away.
These capabilities will come in handy when the data-gathering portion of the mission begins in earnest in 2018. Then, CaSSIS will photograph particular, promising target internet sites recommended by scientists and the public. “It’ll be a firehose of data,” says Nicolas Thomas, the principal investigator on CaSSIS. Just before that, even though, the group has to make positive every little thing performs just proper, and that implies test shots like the ones above, where they couldn’t genuinely select what they have been imaging.
These are no planetary glamour shots. “We didn’t bother putting it in colour, purely since it was boring,” says Thomas—the places they photographed have been so complete of dust that they entirely covered the mineralogy underneath. (Although, does anyone really ever tire of photos from other planets?) Scientifically, they’re worthwhile due to the fact they inform Thomas and the rest of the CaSSIS group that the instrument is functioning. They can use the info to create much better calibration tools, populate a database of targets, and generally get prepared for the true deal.
And this camera operate is critical, Thomas says, because it is important to have instruments monitoring the Red Planet—especially as the current ones age. “Mars is a lot much more geologically active than we imagined 15 years ago,” he says. “Things adjust.” And science requirements pics of these modifications, or they (fundamentally) didn’t occur.
Go Back to Top. Skip To: Start off of Post.