Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
Mars Color Imager

Mars Polar Cap During Transition Orbit Instrument Checkout

MRO MARCI Release No. MARCI2-4, 16 October 2006

MARCI2-4: Composite Mosaic of Four 3-Color Images of Martian North Polar Region Taken on One Day

Image credit: NASA/JPL/Malin Space Science Systems

During the last week of September and the first week or so of October, 2006, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) scientific instruments were turned on to acquire test information leading up to full science operations to begin the first week of November 2006, following superior conjunction (superior conjunction is where a planet goes behind the sun as viewed from the Earth). Since it is very difficult to communicate with a spacecraft when it is close to the Sun as seen from Earth, this checkout of the instruments was crucial to being ready for the Primary Science Phase (PSP) of the mission.

Throughout the Transition Phase of operations, the Mars Color Imager (MARCI) acquired terminator (transition between nighttime and daytime) to terminator swaths of color images on every dayside orbit, as the spacecraft moved northward in its orbit. The south polar region was deep in winter shadow, but the north polar region was illuminated the entire martian day. During the primary mission, these swaths will be assembled into global maps that portray the state of the martian atmosphere -- its weather -- as seen every day and at every place at about 3 PM local solar time. After the Transition Phase was completed, most of the instruments were turned off, but the Mars Climate Sounder and MARCI have been left on. Their data will be recorded and played back to Earth following the communications blackout associated with conjunction and just prior to the start of the PSP.

Combined with Mars Global Surveryor (MGS) Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC) wide angle image mosaics taken at 2 PM local solar time, the MARCI maps will be used to track motions of clouds.

The image shown above is a composite mosaic of four polar views of Mars, taken at midnight, 6 AM, noon, and 6 PM local martian time. This is possible because during summer the sun is always shining in the polar region. It shows the mostly water ice perennial cap (white area), sitting atop the north polar layered materials (light tan immediately adjacent to the ice), and the dark circumpolar dunes. This view shows the region poleward of about 72 degrees north latitude. The data were acquired at about 900 meters per pixel. Three channels are shown here (425 nm, 550 nm, and 600 nm).

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Malin Space Science Systems built and operates the MARCI onboard MRO at its facilities in San Diego, California. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory operates the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft with its industrial partner, Lockheed Martin Astronautics, from facilities in Pasadena, California, and Denver, Colorado.

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