Getting lost on Mars is getting harder and harder
The Mars probes from Esa and Nasa are currently making headlines of varying quality: While the older Mars Express is setting new topographical highlights, the still young camera eye of the Mars Reconnaisance Orbiter (MRO) is gradually going blind.
High-resolution image data from the European Mars Express probe served researchers as the basis for the first "hiking maps" of the red planet. The maps have a scale of 1:50,000 and show the landscape with a resolution of up to 10 meters. They contain contour lines, labels, and legends that reveal many details about the planet's surface.
The new maps show the Iani Chaos region near the Martian equator, which is heavily indented by mountains, valleys, gullies and craters. The striking profile prompted the research team led by Jörg Albertz and Stephan Gehrke from the TU Berlin to map this region in particular.
Iani Chaos was given her form long ago by the effects of water. Under the Martian soil in this area there used to be large caves full of ice. Eventually, volcanism thawed this ice, and the meltwater flowed into the northern lowlands of Mars. This created numerous underground cavities, which is why the ground collapsed in many places, creating the "chaotic" landscape we see today.
The plan is to map the entire surface of Mars topographically at a scale of 1:200,000 on more than ten thousand map sheets, each 83 centimeters wide and 70 centimeters high. The financing of the mammoth project is still being discussed at European level. With the help of such a map it would be possible, for example, to plan where future landing missions should land.
Meanwhile, problems with the American space probe MRO are emerging. It has been orbiting the red planet for about a year and has been sending images of its surface for three months. As the researchers involved announced, electronic problems are occurring with the HiRISE camera on board MRO. The extremely powerful device is experiencing a progressive narrowing of the field of vision because seven of the fourteen image detectors are malfunctioning. One of four color detectors has already failed completely.
So far, according to the researchers, data loss has been limited, but the situation is getting worse. The reason for these problems is currently unknown. Alfred McEwen, the scientist responsible for the camera experiment, was confident that HiRISE would last for the next two years. (fs) © astronomy today