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Starship Orbiting Mars?

Captioned Image Release No. MSSS-24 — 1 April 2008

M G S  MOC picture of cloud over martian limb that resembles a starship from a popular television and film series.
NASA/JPL/Malin Space Science Systems
Closeup of M G S  MOC picture of cloud over martian limb that resembles a starship from a popular television and film series.
NASA/JPL/Malin Space Science Systems

Are we certain that all of the spacecraft orbiting Mars were manufactured on 20th and 21st Century Earth?

The Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC) spotted a feature (arrow) in the skies above Mars that resembles a type of starship known to many from a popular series of television programs and feature-length films.

The picture was taken by the MOC’s blue wide angle camera during an off-nadir spacecraft re-orientation on 27 March 2001. Such re-orientations of the spacecraft around one or more of its major control axes are called slews. The dark area above the cratered surface of Mars is outer space. Between Mars and space is the planet’s thin, carbon dioxide atmosphere. The feature MGS spotted in 2001 is real, but it is not a starship. As is common on Earth, we humans will often recognize shapes formed in the clouds in the sky above us. The starship-shaped features are clouds, most likely of water ice crystals, formed high in the martian atmosphere. The clouds in this case were towering to an altitude of about 60 kilometers (37 miles).

The arrow with the letter “N” indicates the direction toward north. The MOC was pointed toward the east and MGS was traveling northward at the time the image was acquired. Liu Hsin, the larger crater at the bottom center of the main image, is actually circular, but appears elliptical because the spacecraft slewing motion has distorted the image. This crater is about 137 kilometers (85 miles) across. Mars Global Surveyor began orbiting Mars in September 1997. The mission continued until contact with the spacecraft was lost in early November 2006.

Citation and Credit
The image(s) and caption are value-added products. MSSS personnel processed the images and wrote the caption information. While the image(s) are in the Public Domain, NASA/JPL/MSSS requests that you credit the source of the image(s). Re-use of the caption text without credit is plagiarism. Please give the proper credit for use of the image(s) and/or caption.

Image Credit:
NASA/JPL/Malin Space Science Systems

To cite the image(s) and caption information in a paper or report:
Malin, M. C., B. A. Cantor, and K. S. Edgett (2008), Starship Orbiting Mars?, Malin Space Science Systems Captioned Image Release, MSSS-24,

Malin Space Science Systems (MSSS) built and operates the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) Mars Color Imager (MARCI) and Context Camera (CTX). MSSS also built and operated the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC). In addition, MSSS built the Mars Odyssey (ODY) Thermal Emission Imaging Spectrometer (THEMIS) Visible (VIS) camera subsystem, which shares optics with the thermal infrared instrument and is operated at Arizona State University (ASU). MSSS built the Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) for the Phoenix Mars Scout lander and in 2008 is designing a camera for the 2011 Juno Mission to Jupiter and is completing camera systems for the 2009 Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover mission and the 2008 Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO).