July 4th was a pretty special date for Mars.
It was the day that both the north and south poles of the planet were exposed to sunlight – allowing NASA to capture some absolutely amazing images.
Not only were the lighting conditions optimal, but Mars and Earth were the closest they will ever be during the current 26-month cycle, which governs the movement of the planets in relation to each other.
Because of this, the Mars Renaissance Orbiter (MRO) could send images from its High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera back to Earth at its peak data transfer rate.
You might be wondering why the images are so colourful – after all, they did come from the ‘red planet’.
“The dust in the atmosphere affects everything we see, and we try to process the images to normalize that,” explains Alfred McEwen, planetary geologist at the University of Arizona and lead scientist of the HiRISE project. “We stretch these images digitally taking the minimum values and maximum values to show the features.”
As a result, the final images utilise colours to represent different features within the landscapes.
Blue indicates that an area is rock and sandy, while red represents an area covered in dust. White areas as those that covered in frosty water and dry ice.