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Thursday, 1 November, 2001, 11:36 GMT
Odyssey snaps first Mars picture
Mars, Nasa
The resolution will improve in the coming months
By BBC News Online science editor Dr David Whitehouse

The American space agency's 2001 Mars Odyssey probe has returned its first image of the Red Planet.

This spectacular first image of Mars from the 2001 Mars Odyssey spacecraft is just a hint of what's to come

Dr Ed Weiler
The picture is a thermal infrared image of the Martian southern hemisphere.

It shows the south polar carbon dioxide ice cap at a temperature of about minus 120 C (minus 184 F).

Mars Odyssey entered orbit around Mars last week after a six-month, 460 million kilometre (285 million mile) journey.

The image, taken as part of the calibration and testing process for the instrument, shows the nighttime temperatures of Mars and demonstrates the capability of Odyssey's cameras to observe the planet even when the surface is in darkness.

Search for water

"This spectacular first image of Mars from the 2001 Mars Odyssey spacecraft is just a hint of what's to come," said Dr Ed Weiler, associate administrator for space science at the agency (Nasa).

"After we get Odyssey into its final orbit, it will be much closer to Mars than when it took this image, and we'll be able to tell whether or not there are any hot springs on Mars, places where liquid water may be close to the surface. If there are any such locations they would be places we might like to explore on future missions."

The image covers a length of more than 6,500 kilometres (3,900 miles), spanning the planet from limb to limb, with a resolution of approximately 5.5 kilometres per pixel (3.4 miles per pixel), at the point directly beneath the spacecraft.

Mars, Nasa
Odyssey took six months to get to Mars
Odyssey will reach its mapping orbit in January, from which it is planned to have a resolution of 100 metres per pixel (about 300 feet per pixel).

The spacecraft was approximately 22,000 kilometres (about 13,600 miles) above the planet looking down toward the south pole of Mars when this image was taken.

Currently, it is late spring in the Martian southern hemisphere. The extremely cold, circular feature shown in blue is the south polar carbon dioxide ice cap, which is more than 900 kilometres (540 miles) in diameter at this time and will continue to shrink as summer progresses.

Clouds of warmer air blowing off the cap can be seen in orange extending across the image.

See also:

27 Jun 01 | Sci/Tech
Martian water hunt leads to poles
23 Jun 00 | Sci/Tech
Water may flow on Mars
23 Jun 00 | Sci/Tech
What now for Mars?
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