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Five years on Mars, ten Earth years

Mars Express

Ten years ago, in June 2003, the first European mission to Mars, the Airbus Defence and Space-primed Mars Express, was launched. The spacecraft arrived at its destination orbit around Mars nearly seven months later after a 400 million kilometre journey through space. That means that, since one Martian year lasts for 687 Earth days, Mars Express has been in operation around our neighbouring planet for five Martian years.

Diez años de la sonda Mars Express de Airbus Defence and Space

The mission has returned an abundance of data and been extended well beyond its initially-planned lifetime. A significant 40% of this data comes from the probe’s high resolution stereo camera (HRSC) designed and built by Airbus Defence and Space. The camera has so far recorded around 90% of the planet’s surface, and two thirds of these images have a particularly high resolution of just a few metres per pixel.

This wealth of detail is allowing scientists to draw conclusions about how each of the various landscapes was formed, whether by volcanic activity, the impact of meteorites, wind – or even water. Indeed traces have been left of water having existed in both liquid and frozen form on the planet.

Images taken by the Mars Express spacecraft’s High-Resolution Stereo Camera

Mars Express HRSC (© ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum))

The double interconnected impact craters Sigli and Shambe, the basins of which are criss-crossed by extensive fracturing. This region is of great interest to scientists since it shows significant signs of ancient lakes and rivers.

(© ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum))

Mars Express HRSC (© ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum))

Part of the northern polar region of Mars during the summer solstice. The solstice is the longest day and the beginning of the summer for the planet’s northern hemisphere. All the carbon dioxide ice has gone, leaving just a bright cap of water ice (shown as bright white areas in this picture).

(© ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum))

Mars Express HRSC (© ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum))

Elongated impact crater in the southern hemisphere of Mars. Located just south of the Huygens basin, the crater could have been carved out by a train of projectiles striking the planet at a shallow angle. The depression is about 78 km in length, opens from just under 10 km wide at one end to 25 km wide at the other, and reaches a depth of 2 km.

(© ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum))

Mars Express HRSC (© ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum))

Kasei Valles and Sacra Fossae: spectacular views of the chaotic terrain in the area. The image has a ground resolution of about 21 m/pixel and covers 225 x 95 km or 21,375 km2, an area roughly half the size of the Netherlands.

(© ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum))

Mars Express HRSC (© ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum))

This image sheds new light on Mars’ appearance. Data and images from the spacecraft suggest that several ‘light toned deposits’, some of the least understood features on Mars, were formed when large amounts of groundwater burst on to the surface. Scientists propose that groundwater had a greater role in shaping the martian surface than previously believed, and may have sheltered primitive life forms as the planet started drying up.

(© ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum))

PlanetSolar systemSpace ExplorationExoMarsMars ExpressVenus Express