The Red Planet is desolate, freezing cold, and has an atmosphere 1% as dense as our own. Its winds blow in great gusts that whip up global dust storms that power and disrupt Mars missions that rely on solar energy.
Luckily, spacecraft on and above Mars keep us earthlings up to date on Martian weather and the best sights of the Martian wanderlust. From the magnified oculus of Perseverance’s WATSON camera to the all-seeing eye of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, these are the best images of Mars released this year.
Canyon system from above
Ius and Tithonium Chasmata on Mars.
The Mars Express Orbiter has captured images of the Valles Marineris, a canyon system about 10 times longer, 20 times wider, and five times deeper than Earth’s Grand Canyon. It’s hard to fathom the extent of such a structure, but the image – taken miles above the surface of Mars – shows that the planet’s exterior is topographically much more dynamic than some rover images would lead you to believe. It’s about perspective.
Martian clouds look like terrestrial clouds
Two cameras aboard the Mars Express orbiter captured images of Martian dust storms swirling around the planet’s north pole. Interestingly, the images appeared to show Martian clouds similar in structure to Earth’s clouds. It’s another reminder that despite the many differences between the two planets, they have their similarities.
A precariously balanced rock
A balancing stone discovered by Perseverance.
“Okay,” you might say, “this one has it got Aliens.” But it’s not! A rock sighted by Perseverance in June was seen very faintly on top of a large rock sticking out of the ground. The rock appears to be a precariously balanced rock (or a PBR), a technical term for a rock formation that also occurs on Earth.
The first image of Mars from the Webb Space Telescope
The Webb Space Telescope went local in September when it imaged Mars with its near-infrared (NIRCam) camera. The state-of-the-art space observatory photographed features on the red planet’s surface – namely Huygens Crater, the Hellas Basin and Syrtis Major, a dark patch separating the planet’s northern lowlands from the southern highlands. The telescope also took spectroscopic data from the Martian atmosphere, revealing some details about its molecular composition.
The infamous Door of Mars
According to NASA, this rock formation is not an extraterrestrial entrance.
In May, the Curiosity rover (bless its hard-working robotic heart) photographed a strange rock formation on Mars’ Mount Sharp that almost everyone agrees looks like an alien door. (Alien in the sense that it’s on Mars, because who knows what alien doors actually look like). Of course, NASA scrapped the internet theory. Apparently the feature is only a foot high and is a split between two rock fractures. We see what we want to see, especially on the Red Planet.
A meteorite impact site
On Christmas Eve 2021, a meteorite hit Mars. The impact was felt by the InSight lander, which normally detects seismic waves from marsquakes. In 2022, the HiRISE camera on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter photographed the impact site. It showed ice thrown up by the impact of the space rock, with a large black speck blaring showing the rock’s presence.
Before (and after) the meteorite impact
The context camera, also on board MRO, photographed the site both before and after the impact. The rock ended up in Amazonis Planitia, a region that once looked relatively plain – and in the aftermath has been quite interesting. A black dot is the meteorite’s prominent impact site, and a debris field clearly spreads outward from the crash-landing of the rock.
A tangle of Martian garbage
Human garbage on Mars or descendant of the flying spaghetti monster?
What in fresh Martian hell is that? alien garbage? In July, Perseverance’s hazard avoidance camera imaged a tangle of threads that NASA officials confirmed was debris from the rover mission — though they didn’t know exactly what. Gizmodo commenters suggested the threadlike debris could be connected to the flying spaghetti monster. Unfortunately, it’s more of a reminder that even noble endeavors like space exploration have consequences like interplanetary pollution.
More Martian debris
Perseverance’s broken back shell and crumpled parachute.
The Ingenuity helicopter snapped a picture of some parts of the back shell and crumpled parachute from the Perseverance rover’s successful landing on Mars. The rover landed in February 2021 and the dropped material was discovered this April. The image is fairly sharp – a welcome change from some of the older images of the red planet.
InSight on Marsquake Day
InSight seismometer on May 4, 2022.
This image was captured by the InSight lander on May 4, the day its seismometer (covered in dust in this image) detected one of the strongest marsquakes ever detected on the planet. The Marsquake had a magnitude of 5.0 – this corresponds to a noticeable earthquake on Earth, but which causes only minor damage.
The oddly flaky rocks of curiosity
Flaky rocks seen by Curiosity in June 2022.
The Curiosity rover spotted scaly rocks as it traversed Mars’ Mount Sharp. Scientists know that liquid water once existed on Mars, and scientists believe these scaly rocks indicate where streams of water flowed through sand dunes.
InSight’s last selfie
InSight’s last selfie, taken in April 2022.
The last selfie from the InSight lander was a sight to behold, not least because it can be seen clearly why It is the lander’s last selfie. InSight is being smothered by Martian dust clinging to its solar panels, meaning the lander isn’t getting enough power to survive. The InSight team has stopped using the lander’s camera to extend its scientific operations, leaving us with this last sight of InSight, which is expected to die in the next few months.
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