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2010: Keeping Busy on Mars

5 January 2010

2010: Keeping Busy on Mars

Image showing space snapshots that says Great Shots Blog, iconic images from our solar system.

A new generation of Mars explorers are in the works for launch windows in 2011 and 2012. Meanwhile, NASA's sturdy Mars fleet continues to break records. This month marks the Opportunity rover's seventh year operating on Mars. In May, the rover broke the surface operation record of six years and 116 days set by Viking 1. Efforts continue to contact Opportunity's twin, Spirit, which stopped communicating with Earth nine months ago.

In orbit, NASA's Mars 2001 Odyssey marked its 3,340th day circling the Red Planet in December 2010, breaking a record set by NASA's Mars Global Surveyor, which orbited Mars from 1997 to 2006. Two other spacecraft -- Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Express are keeping tabs on Mars from orbit.

Here's how Mars looked to these hardworking spacecraft in 2010 (7 images total):

Black and white image of crater on Mars.
The Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity catches its own shadow on the rim of Santa Maria crater on Mars. The rover will mark begin its eight year on the Red Planet exploring the football field-sized crater.

Color image showing dark red dunes with black stripes as seen from orbit.
The Russell Crater dune field is covered seasonally by carbon dioxide frost, and this Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter image shows the dune field after the frost has sublimated (evaporated directly from solid to gas). There are just a few patches left of the bright seasonal frost. Numerous dark dust devil tracks can be seen meandering across the dunes.

Color image showing large red rock on Mars and part of the Opportunity rover.
NASA's Mars Exploration Rover, Opportunity, found and examined this meteorite on Mars in September 2010. The rock is a nickel-iron meteorite.

Black and white image of rover tracks going off to the horizon.
Opportunity took this image on the 2,235th Martian day, or sol, of the rover's mission on Mars (8 May 2010). The tracks are from a 14.87-m (49-foot) drive southward on the preceding sol.

Color image showing the Sun being eclipsed by the Martian moon Phobos.
In November, Opportunity caught Phobos, the larger of the two moons of Mars passing in front of the sun.

Color image showing sheets of ice from orbit.
The Martian north polar layered deposits are an ice sheet much like the Greenland ice sheet on the Earth. Just as with the ice sheet in Greenland this Martian ice sheet contains many layers that record variations in the Martian climate. Sometimes icy layers can be ablated away during warm climates. Later the ice sheet can be buried by new ice layers and grow in size again. It's likely that many of these cycles have occurred over the ice sheet's history.

The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter recorded this image of north polar layered deposits in March 2010.

Black and white image showing hundreds of tiny dunes around a crater.
A vast dune field lies near the northern polar cap of Mars. Seen here in summer, the dunes have partially buried an impact crater about 1,000 m (3,300 feet) wide. This image was taken in August 2010 by NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter.

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Last Updated: 13 Jan 2011