[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Saturday, 25 March 2006, 14:27 GMT
Probe returns first Mars pictures
The images show a crater-pitted landscape of deep canyons

Nasa is studying the first pictures taken of the surface of the Red Planet by the high-resolution cameras aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).

The spacecraft arrived at the planet two weeks ago with a mission to map the world in unprecedented detail.

The test images released by the US space agency (Nasa) on Friday show a swathe of land in the planet's mid-latitude southern highlands.

The probe is currently correcting its orbit and commissioning instruments.

Three cameras were used to take the crisp black and white images.

They captured the pictures while the spacecraft was flying about 2,490km (1,550 miles) above Mars' surface, about nine times the range planned for the orbiter's primary science mission.

Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said the smallest objects that could be made out were about 7.6m (25ft) across, but that once the orbiter descended to the lower mapping orbit the cameras would be able to pick out objects just under 1m across.

"These high-resolution images of Mars are thrilling, and unique given the early morning time of day. The final orbit of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will be over Mars in the mid-afternoon, like Mars Global Surveyor and Mars Odyssey," said Alfred McEwen, University of Arizona, Tucson, principal investigator for the orbiter's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera.

"These images provide the first opportunity to test camera settings and the spacecraft's ability to point the camera with Mars filling the instruments' field of view," said Steve Saunders, the mission's programme scientist at Nasa Headquarters.

Over a period of months, MRO's orbit will be changed from a highly elongated one to a near circle. It will also dip lower and lower until it reaches an altitude of 254km (158 miles).

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific