Mars put on a stunning show this weekend as it entered "opposition" with Earth.
Scientists have been ramping up Mars research over the past few years in preparation for mankind’s inevitable journey to the red planet, and they have been learning some fascinating things. A recent image captured by the Hubble Space Telescope reveals a dynamic seasonal landscape on the red planet, complete with frost polar ice caps and rugged terrain.
A statement from NASA reveals that the image displays details as small as 20 to 30 miles across, allowing an unprecedented look at the red planet. The image was snapped on May 12, 2016 when Mars was a mere 50 million miles away from the Earth.
The dark region to the far right of the image is known as Syrtis Major Planitia, and was one of the first regions of the planet to be observed by astronomers in the 17th century. It was observed by Christiaan Huygens to calculate the rate at which the planet rotates (it takes just 37 minutes longer than a 24-hour day here on Earth).
The image also shows the Hellas Planitia basin, an asteroid impact crater measuring 1,100 miles across and almost five miles deep. In the center of the photo, viewers can see Arabia Terra, a sprawling upland plain on the northern half of the planet spanning roughly 2,800 miles. The landscape here is littered with impact craters, suggesting that it has been unchanged for a long period of the planet’s history.
Mars opposition, which occurred on May 22, provided one of the clearest views of the planet to date. The term refers to the time when the sun and Mars are on exact opposite sides of the Earth. The red planet came within just 47.4 million miles of us, offering a crystal-clear view of the fascinating geological features.
This occurs about every two years, and provides a unique opportunity to study the geology of the planet. The light from the sun allowed the Hubble to capture the breathtaking image, and it won’t have another opportunity for about 26 months.
A NASA news release describing the details of the image can be found here.