Just one day after arriving in orbit around Mars, the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) first interplanetary spacecraft, Hope, captured a stunning photograph of the Red Planet.
The new photo, which is the first since Hope’s arrival in Mars orbit on Feb. 9, shows a smattering of clouds, four massive Martian mountains and the vast Valles Marineris — the largest canyon in the solar system — in the right side of the image.
“We couldn’t have asked for a better day on Mars!” UAE Space Agency chairperson Sarah Al Amiri wrote in a tweet Sunday (Feb. 14). “Can’t wait to see the science data come in so we can comprehensively characterize the lower atmosphere!”
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The Hope spacecraft launched in July 2020, bound to study the weather and atmosphere of the Red Planet. Hope successfully executed a perilous 27-minute thruster burn on Feb. 9 to slip into orbit around Mars, making the UAE the fifth entity to visit the Red Planet. (China became the sixth the next day with its Tianwen-1 mission.)
On board are three different instruments, one of which is a camera dubbed the Emirates Exploration Imager (EXI). It’s EXI that snapped the new photograph, on Feb. 10 at 3:36 p.m. EST (2036 GMT). At the time, the spacecraft was about 15,300 miles (24,700 kilometers) above the planet’s surface.
Easiest to spot in the new image are the trio of mountains marching across the image: from top to bottom, Ascraeus Mons, Pavonis Mons and Arsia Mons. Tricker to pick out is the massive Olympus Mons, the largest mountain in the solar system, seen at sunrise right along the line where night and day meet. To the right of the line of peaks is the vast canyon system Valles Marineris.
Throughout the image is precisely what Hope went to Mars to study: the Red Planet’s atmosphere. EXI and the two other instruments, which measure infrared and ultraviolet light, will gather the data scientists need to understand the planet’s weather around the globe and throughout the day, and to piece together how the layers of the atmosphere interact with each other.
“Look at all the clouds,” Andrew Jones, instrument scientist for EXI at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, which partnered with the UAE on the mission, said in a statement. “We were expecting great things from EXI, but seeing the clouds above the limb and in the craters and valleys took my breath away.”
Hope will remain in an initial orbit for about two months before relocating to its final orbit and beginning its science observations later this spring.
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