MRO CTX/MARCI Science Team Receives Prestigious NASA Award

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The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) Context Camera (CTX)/Mars Color Imager (MARCI) science team was awarded the Group Achievement Award during the NASA Honor Awards Ceremony on July 19, 2011. These awards are presented by NASA to a number of carefully selected teams who have distinguished themselves by making outstanding contributions to the NASA mission. The award was given for “systematically imaging much of Mars at high resolution” with CTX and for producing an “unprecedented record of atmospheric phenomena” with MARCI. MRO Project Scientist Dr. Richard W. Zurek was on hand at the ceremony to accept the award on behalf of the CTX/MARCI science team.

Left: CTX 3D anaglyph of a crater in Athabasca Valles. Center: CTX image of a dust storm in Buvinda Valles, colorized using a simultaneously-acquired MARCI image. Right: Dunes crossing a portion of the martian north polar cap.
Figure 1. Left: CTX 3D anaglyph of a streamlined crater in Athabasca Valles. 3D glasses with a red left eye and blue right eye are required to see in three dimensions. Subframe of stereopair of CTX P01_001540_1889_XI_08N204W and P02_001804_1889_09N204W. Middle: CTX image B07_012326_2125_XN_32N207W, colorized using a simultaneously acquired MARCI image, showing a dust storm over Buvinda Valles. Right: Windblown dunes in the martian north polar region. Subframe of CTX B01_010019_2635_XN_83N241W. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems.

CTX has imaged over 67% of Mars at a resolution of 6 meters per pixel. Covering up to 9390 km2 in a single image, CTX is well suited not only to create large areal mosaics, but also to acquire extensive repeat coverage. Approximately 5% of the planet has been covered in stereo with CTX, aiding in quantitative geomorphic studies. In total, CTX has acquired repeat coverage of nearly 25% of the planet, including routine monitoring of over 800 separate locations for surficial changes and annual spring and summer mosaics of the southern polar cap to monitor ongoing martian climate change.

Top: Reduced resolution map of CTX coverage of Mars through July 17, 2011. Bottom: Global MOC wide angle map over MOLA topography.
Figure 2. Top: Reduced resolution map of global CTX coverage as of 17 July 2011. Bottom: MGS MOC WA global mosaic overlaid upon MGS Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA) topography. Projection is simple cylindrical with a central longitude of 0° in both images. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems.

MARCI acquires a daily global mosaic of Mars in 5 visible and 2 ultraviolet wavelengths at a resolution of up to 1 kilometer per pixel. These daily mosaics are used to monitor the martian weather, continuing the efforts of the wide angle Mars Global Surveyor Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC WA), which acquired daily global mosaics from 1999 to 2006. In addition to studying martian weather patterns, the MARCI data are used to alert the operations teams for surface missions such as the Spirit and Opportunity rovers of any impending threats such as dust storms, as well as for image acquisition planning purposes for CTX in order to avoid imaging dusty areas. MARCI data are also used to create a weekly weather report for the general public, including a movie of the previous week's data, which can be found at:

Left: MARCI image of a north polar spiral storm, 2 March 2008. Middle: MARCI image of water ice clouds over Nili Fossae. Right: Dust storm approaching the MER-B (Spirit) landing site, 13 October 2010.
Figure 3. Left: MARCI view of a north polar spiral storm. Subframe of P17_007495_0395_MA_00N059W. Middle: MARCI view of water ice clouds over Syrtis Major. Subframe of P01_001398_1347_MA_00N288W. Right: Dust clouds approaching the MER-B (Opportunity) rover site on 13 October 2010. Subframe of MARCI image G04_019756_1636_MA_00N008W. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems.

In addition to CTX and MARCI, MSSS built the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC), operated by principal investigator Mark Robinson at Arizona State University, which continues to return 0.5 meter per pixel high-resolution images and 100 meter per pixel multi-spectral images after being launched in June 2009. MSSS also built and will be operating four cameras aboard the 2011 Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover mission and one camera aboard the 2011 Juno Mission to Jupiter.

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