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Mars Odyssey sends first snapshot

The thermal infrared image on to the right was taken by Mars Odyssey on Tuesday.
The thermal infrared image on to the right was taken by Mars Odyssey on Tuesday.  

By Amanda Barnett

(CNN) -- Just over a week after entering orbit around Mars, the Odyssey spacecraft has sent back its first snapshot -- a thermal infrared image of the planet's southern hemisphere.

The image was taken on Tuesday to help calibrate Odyssey's infrared camera, called the Thermal Emission Imaging System, or THEMIS. The image indicates the nighttime temperatures on Mars and demonstrates the "night-vision" capability of the camera system to observe Mars, according to NASA.

"This spectacular first image of Mars from the 2001 Mars Odyssey spacecraft is just a hint of what's to come," said NASA associate administrator Ed Weiler in a prepared statement.

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Images taken by THEMIS are expected to be used by scientists to learn more about the distribution of minerals on Mars, particularly those that indicate the presence of water.

THEMIS also is to take visible, or regular images. The device can zoom in to show objects about as big as a semi-truck. This resolution will help fill in the gap between large-scale images from the Viking orbiters in the 1970s and the high-resolution images from the Mars Global Surveyor, which still is orbiting Mars.

The first THEMIS image covers a swath of Mars of more than 6,500 kilometers (3,900 miles). It spans the planet from limb to limb, with a resolution of about 5.5 kilometers per pixel (3.4 miles per pixel). Odyssey took the picture when it was about 22,000 kilometers (about 13,600 miles) above the planet aimed down toward the south pole of Mars.

The extremely cold, circular feature shown in blue is the Martian south polar carbon dioxide ice cap , which is more than 900 kilometers (540 miles) in diameter at this time. It will shrink as summer progresses. Clouds of cooler air blowing off the cap are indicated in orange.

Odyssey arrived at Mars at 10:30 p.m. EDT on October 23 after a six-month, 285 million-mile journey. The probe, which will not land, begins its primary science mission in January.

Odyssey is designed to use THEMIS and its other two primary instruments -- the Gamma Ray Spectrometer (GRS) and Mars Radiation Environment Experiment (MARIE) -- to map the distribution of chemical elements and minerals on Mars and to record the radiation environment in low Mars orbit. The radiation experiment is to help determine the risk to any future human explorers on Mars.


• Mars Odyssey
• Mars Global Surveyor
• Space Telescope Science Institute Home Page
• National Space Science Data Center
• Mars Exploration Homepage
• Mars Meteorite Home Page (JPL)
• Mars: Planet Profile
• The Mars Society

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