ExoMars returns first images

The first images captured by the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter have been released by the European Space Agency, hinting at the close-up images of the Martian surface that are yet to come.


An ESA showcase of some of the first images taken by the Colour and Stereo Surface Imaging System on the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter on 22 November 2016.
Credit: ESA/Roscosmos/ExoMars/CaSSIS/UniBE

The European Space Agency has released some of the first images taken by the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) during its orbits of the Red Planet.

The TGO is currently on an elliptical orbit of Mars that takes it from 230-310km above the surface to about 98,000km every 4.2 days.

Late next year, the TGO will manoeuvre into a near-circular orbit at a steady 400km above the Martian surface. In anticipation of this, it has been capturing images of Mars with its CaSSIS (Colour and Stereo Surface Imaging System) camera, and has been testing its four science instruments.

“We saw Hebes Chasma at 2.8 metres per pixel,” says Professor Nicolas Thomas, who led the team from the University of Bern behind the CaSSIS camera. “That’s a bit like flying over Bern at 15,000km per hour and simultaneously getting sharp pictures of cars in Zürich.”

A close up of the rim of an unnamed crater near the Mars equator, captured by the Trace Gas Orbiter.
Credit: ESA/Roscosmos/ExoMars/CaSSIS/UniBE

The orbiter arrived at the Red Planet on 19 October 2016 and is the latest spacecraft to search for signs of life on Mars. Its main objective is to analyse gases that make up less than one per cent of the Martian atmosphere, including methane, water vapour, nitrogen dioxide and acetylene. Because methane points to biological activity on Earth, its detection in the atmosphere of Mars could point to signs of biological activity, although this would not be conclusive.

The Trace Gas Orbiter arrived at Mars at the same time as its companion spacecraft, the Schiaparelli lander. However, the premature ejection of the lander’s parachute and backshell caused it to crash on the Martian surface.

“A lot of public attention has been on the failed landing of Schiaparelli,” says Thomas, “but TGO has been working really well so we have been extremely busy in the past month.”

Carousel image - the TGO’s view above Arsia Chasmata on Mars
Credit: ESA/Roscosmos/ExoMars/CaSSIS/UniBE; mosaicking tool: AutoStitch (University of British Columbia)
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