The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) was launched into space in 2005, and since that time, it’s rotated around the red planet, snapping photos of all that it sees. This spacecraft transmits images back to Earth every month, but the most recent batch—1,035 pictures total—is especially meaningful: the geometry of our planet and Mars had lined up just right, and on May 22, Mars and the Sun were on opposite sides of our sky. This allowed for clear communications, at least for a few weeks, between Mars and Earth.
The unobstructed views coincided with Mars’ equinox and meant that the sun shined directly onto the planet’s equator, providing the MRO with clear, complete views. (For the rest of the year, the north and south pole is shrouded in complete darkness.) The images returned are a spectacular look at this uncharted territory. There are multiple types of terrains visible, including buried craters and dark dunes. Each is an up-close view of the planet, and divorced from their captions, they could be mistaken for beautiful abstract artworks.
The MRO's images are exciting for NASA—they give us a better perspective of Mars’ surface and could help map potential landing sites for the future. Check out some of our favorites, below, and see the entire compelling collection in the HiRise image catalog.
Gullies in Dunes Dubbed Kolhar
Dunes Dubbed Tleilax
Deposits in Noctis Labyrinthus
Landforms of Arsia Sulci
Dune Field with Bright Fans
Possible Phyllosilicates in Area of Fretted Terrain
Yardangs South of Olympus Mons
Steep Slopes of Hebes Chasma
Valley with Flows in Noachis Terra
Crater in Hesperia Planum